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Keith Clarke, "The Joys of Tank Raised Banggai Cardinalfish", October 24th, 1999 on #reefs ....

The Joys of Tank Raised Banggai Cardinalfish

Keith Clarke

October 24th, 1999 on #reefs

Many years ago Keith's first aquarium was a guppy and swordtail tank that didn't last very long, but sparked a fascination with fish breeding. A few years ago, after a 30 year hiatus from aquaria, he set up a reef aquarium. The challenge of combining science and artistry within the confines of an aquarium has led to many discoveries and the renewal of conservation values for Keith.

Good evening folks. I've prepared a short talk on banggai cardinal breeding and fry raising that I hope will convince a some of you that this is an easy process that anyone can do and all eco-conscious reefkeepers should attempt. Most of what follows has been my personal observations coupled with the extensive knowledge of other experts, most notably Dr. Frank Marini. The rich rewards of propagating marine animals can be manyfold. The opportunity to observe a breeding pair of banggai cardinals (Pterapagon kauderni) is no exception. Their live born fry are relatively easy to rear and make excellent aquarium specimens due to their early familiarization with the fishkeeper.

Female Adult

With the assistance of Dr. Frank Marini and other banggai cardinal breeders on the Reefkeepers mail list I have had the pleasure of raising many broods of cardinal fry since the beginning of this year. The photo ops are endless so I'll be sharing a few images with you tonight. Please take a few moments to view these photos for yourself and consider a captive bred cardinal should you be interested in adding this species to your reef aquarium.

One of the most difficult aspects of banggai breeding is the task of obtaining a male and female. Their gender is nearly impossible to ascertain until sexual maturity is reached. Differences in the mouth area will become evident at an approximate length of 1.5 to 2.0 inches. The female will have a straighter jaw line whereas the male jawline will be more rounded.

Gender Differences Diagram

There are other means used to distinguish between the male and the female of the species, including:

  • male is usually larger
  • male has a much longer second dorsal fin (banner)
  • the female holds her banner closer to body

Due to difference in age, fin nipping and individual characteristics of each fish, none of these indicators should be considered reliable.

Gender Differences Photographs

Many aquarists advocate adding a handful of cardinals to an aquarium in order to obtain a school of banggais or to obtain a breeding pair. Unfortunately sexually mature males will not tolerate another male in their territory. Fighting seen amongst two cardinals could be indicative of two males. The fight for breeding rights will result in the weaker males that are quickly eliminated when there are insufficient hiding places in the aquarium. Please remove the victims of aggression from your aquarium. Death will certainly follow and it will happen very quickly. The absence of fighting can indicate two females. IMHO attempts to maintain schools of cardinals should not be considered in small aquariums.

On Dec. 26th, 1998 I purchased a pair of banggai cardinals and added them to my sparsely inhabited reef aquarium after the usual slow drip acclimation process. They refused food in the form of flakes or pellets, but my concerns regarding their feeding habits were quickly set aside when it became apparent that they were voracious consumers of frozen brine shrimp. The gender of the two specimens I had obtained became my next cause for concern. Many hours were spent comparing photographs and re-reading Frank's advice on determining gender. The cardinals began spending much of their time side by side facing the changing currents without any signs of aggression that would be obvious if they were two males that had reached sexual maturity. This left a female pair or a mating pair as the only possibilities that remained. The gender question remained unanswered for the next five weeks.

The Happy Couple!

The female to the left and the male has been holding eggs for approximately 10 days. One of the surest means of determining Banggai Cardinal gender is to observe which of the animals is mouth brooding a clutch of eggs. This is the exclusive domain of the male of the species. It was with great joy that I observed an overnight change in the mouth area of one of these animals on the morning of February 2nd, 1999. The head was much puffier below the jaw line. There appeared to be a pouch there that was greatly distended. The swelling extended as far back as the gill openings, which could no longer close completely. This refusal to eat was further evidence that this was a male brooding eggs. For the duration of the brooding the male was not observed eating.

I know very little about the fertilization and transfer of eggs from the female to the male. Dr. Marini told me that another researcher has observed the male suck the eggs from the female's oviduct after fertilization. The female initiated the mating ritual that I observed. The female darted from one side of the male to the other. She poked the male in the abdomen between the pelvic fins and would shimmy with a fine tremor that lasts for five seconds before moving to the other side of the male. I was unable to observe further, but an hour later I noticed that the male was brooding a mouthful of eggs again. Normally the female wouldn't carry the egg sac in her mouth. Her task is complete when she has coerced the male to fertilize them. What happens when the male is still brooding and the female has produced her eggs prematurely? She carries them in her mouth while waiting for the male to release the fry!

Egg Sack

There is some dispute as to whether this is a female, but my cardinals are distinctive and the male was holding at the time this photo was taken. While brooding the female becomes the more visible of the two fish. The male becomes reclusive, preferring the darker, well-protected areas of the reef aquarium. Upon first noticing that the male is brooding it becomes important to setup an aquarium in which to raise the fry. The rearing tank should be a minimum of ten gallons. Start this aquarium with water from the reef aquarium. Add some live rock if possible. A breeders sponge or a bag of used GAC will provide a bacterial inoculation. An airstone will produce adequate circulation in a ten gallon aquarium. The addition of macro algae will offer cover and a sense of security for the banggai fry.

Head Shot of Male Holding Eggs

After approximately 21 days of mouth brooding male will from release 15 to 30 fry. Rather then stress the male by attempting to capture and isolate him I have always preferred to allow the release to proceed in the reef aquarium. The fry are large enough (1cm) when released to be readily visible and are easily netted and removed to the growout tank. Other banggai breeders had experienced premature fry release caused by the stress of capture attempts. The release will begin a few hours after lights out and could be spread out over two or three evenings.

In the early am hours of February 24th, 1999 a new reef inhabitant caught my attention as I was observing the darkened aquarium. Upon closer inspection I was overjoyed to discover that it was a very tiny banggai cardinal. A miniature version of the adults. Over the course of the next three hours I was able to capture fifteen fry. The most amazing sight during this process was peering into the male's gaping mouth and noticing pairs of eyes staring back at me as if the reluctant fry were sizing up my intentions. Eventually all of the fry were transferred to the growout tank and given their first feeding of brine shrimp nauplii. The fish fry should be fed often throughout the day for best results. The brine shrimp nauplii should be enriched in a high fat Selco emulsion prior to being offered to the fry.

Day Old Fry in an Artifical Urchin

Hatching brine shrimp nauplii was not something I had attempted before so some process testing was required. After some dismal hatch rates I soon discovered that the hatch water had to be maintained at a constant temperature of 80F to ensure a steady supply of nauplii. A heated five gallon aquarium now holds four two litre hatching containers that are producing an abundance of fresh nauplii. The SG of the hatch water should be maintained at 1.010. The hatch containers should be illuminated by an incandescent bulb that is placed close to and above the hatching facility.

A mere twenty-six days after the release of the first brood the pair of cardinals produced another brood of fry. The male has very little time between broods to regain his strength. During the week or so that he can eat it is important to frequently offer nutritious food. I was able to rescue sixteen of the second brood of fry. These were added to the growout tank and settled in behind the older fry as they face the nauplii rich currents. I am forced to feed heavily to ensure that all of the new mouths obtain enough nourishment. This will result in increased maintenance in the form of more frequent water exchanges. There have not been any problems associated with raising three or four broods together in the same growout aquarium.

Month and Week Old Fry in the Same Growout Tank

The fry and juveniles are maintained on a diet of enriched brine shrimp nauplii until they begin accepting frozen foods. Weaning will not be successful until the fish's mouth is large enough to swallow frozen adult brine shrimp. Shaving the frozen brine off the block will assist with the weaning process. This will take place at about three months of age. The juveniles are approximately three-quarters of an inch in length at this time. People who have received banggai cardinal juveniles from me have reported that they accept flake foods as well as frozen brine shrimp. They also notice that the captive bred banggais are much more gregarious than wild caught specimens.

Any talk regarding banggai cardinals would be incomplete without mentioning the efforts of Dr. Frank Marini. Shortly after the introduction of this species of fish to our hobby by Dr. Gerald Allen, Frank became the leading promoter of the breeding capacity of the fish and our ability to conserve wild stocks through hobby breeding. His numerous articles and talks on the subject, constant presence and support to other breeders such as myself, and his web page information are to be commended. Dr. Marini's latest efforts on behalf of the banggai cardinal is the formation of BCCSC, the Banggai Cardinalfish Conservation and Studbook Committee in conjunction with the Breeder's Registry as announced in the latest Journal of MaquaCulture, Vol. 7, Issue 3.

"The purpose and goal of this committee to inform the aquarium industry and general public, on the plight of these beautiful fish. This will be accomplished through the creation of a Banggai Cardinalfish Support Website, a one point source of captive care and breeding informationů". With the assistance of Mieko Sunbury (archivist) and Chad Callan (researcher) the BCCSC will shortly finalize their website "where on-line submissions of studbook registration will take place". (quotes from Dr. Marini in the BR JoM)

I look forward to the completion of this facility and suggest that everyone interested in banggai cardinals should make use of this resource when it is available. I would like to encourage reef owners and fish keepers to consider the implications of our hobby on the wild resources we deplete. Breeding and raising captive propagated animals is an excellent means of ensuring continued wild stock availability, viability and the stability of the reef ecosystem. I realize that propagation is not for all so I would also encourage purchasers to prefer captive bred fish to wild caught specimens.

Banggai cardinalfish resources

Banggai Cardinalfish: breeding-raising-fry care-FAQ by Frank Marini Ph.D.

Banggai Trading BB

My notes and observations on Raising and Breeding the Banggai Cardinalfish, article by Frank C Marini Ph.D.

Captive care and Breeding of the Banggai cardinal fish "Pteragon kauderni" by Frank Marini Ph.D.

Breeding the Banggai Cardinal

Approximately how long does it take for the fish to reach maturity?

By maturity I would think we are talking about sexual maturity. If so, 8 months would be the earliest, but more likely closer to a year

What tank size is recomended for these fish?
I maintain a pair of adults in a 50g. There is only one other fish in the tank. A tomato clown.

Do you have a picture of the brine shrimp nauplii breeding tank?
Hatchery Image, Hatching Bottle for Brine Shrimp

When you noticed the release of the fry, did you shut off your pumps temporarily ?
Yes, the pumps were on and off periodically. Some of the fry made it into the overflow and did well in the sump.

How well do they do if you only keep one?
I can't comment from personal experience, but a friend has a single juvenile that seems to be quite happy sharing a 25g tank with a perc.

Do they eventually begin eating flake or do they need vitamin soaked frozen food forever?
The wild caught adults in my care have never eaten flake food. The juveniles will do so.

How often and with what method did you do water changes on the grow out tank? (use reef water)?
I used exchange water from my existing reef. My growout was 20g and I was doing frequent 5g exchanges. As I recall every other day.

So how are the coloration and markings of the tank raised fry? Similar to wild type?
The fry do not have the white markings evident on the adults. By the end of the first month they are similar in appearance to adults in every way except size.

Do bangaiis have the same disposition as pajama cardinals in the reeftank?
Can't comment on pajama cards, never kept them.

Do you think since bangaii cardinals are being bred by more people there may be attempts to raise the young faster by force feeding and in turn affecting there internal organs like which happens with guppies?
Good question. Maquaculture centres may resort to force feedings. Can't imagine it as an option for the home breeder.

Do you find it hard to ween the fry to frozen foods when fry of different ages are kept in the same tank?
There is some concern that younger fry may choke on adult brine shrimp, but by starting with shaved frozen brine the chances are reduced. I've never experienced a problem from this.

Have you tried mysis, live or frozen?
I believe mysis will sustain the fry. One fry survived in my mysid rich sump for a couple of weeks. I was able to feed frozen nauplii as well.

How often does the banggai breed?
My pair have done so every 4 to 5 weeks for the past 10 months. There is seldom more than a week between broods.

Is it at all possible for the fry to be successfully raised in the main reef aquarium or will they become prey, and to what?
I've had diminishing returns of late. The "sparsely populated" tank isn't so sparse anymore there are more corals with larger mouths and I suspect that parent predation is taking place.

Would a lighted macro algae refugium, plumbed to the main tank and sump, be a good place to raise the fry?
Yes, I believe so. The algae would provide good cover for the fry.

How long do you leave the fry in the growing tank?
I wouldn't consider parting with the fry until they are weaned to prepared foods. I still have some in the growout that are 5-6 months now. They are generally ready for the big tank at 3 months.

Thanks for the great talk and images Keith.

© 1999

Created by liquid
Last modified 2005-02-07 05:51