One of the great privileges of working with marines is being able to keep and care for some of the ocean’s most amazing and beautiful fish. The Clown Triggerfish is no exception and has to be one of the most eye-catching and beautiful species of fish. Their true beauty has made this species of triggerfish one of the most popular in the aquarium trade and one of the only triggerfish that has been bred before in a home aquarium.
The Clown Triggerfish is truly a memorable fish and there is no other triggerfish that looks like the Clown Triggerfish. The adult Clown Triggerfish is black overall, with big white spots on the belly and a reticulate pattern of yellow lines on the back. Clown Triggerfish also have orange “lipstick” with yellow highlights on the anal fin, dorsal fin and caudal peduncle. Juvenile Clown Triggerfish have a black body, and the whole body is covered with white spots. My description does not do this fish justice and I recommend that you look at the pictures to get a better idea of this fish’s appearance. Just as you thought it couldn’t get better this fish dose not only have looks but it also has brains! One of the other striking qualities about Clown Triggerfish and other triggerfish in general is the obvious intelligence that they exhibit. Triggers are very deliberate in the way they go about their business, and don’t move about in a seemingly mindless or programmed fashion exhibited by some other genera. You can almost see the gears turning as they examine their surroundings, or maybe contemplate a possible food item or a newly introduced object or inhabitant in their environment – eyes rotating like some advanced sensor all the while.
The Clown Triggerfish ranges from East Africa east to Samoa and the Line Islands. It is found on lagoon patch reefs, reef faces and slopes at depths of 3 to 73 meters. Young B. conspicillum are found at greater depths than the adults and are most often seen hanging out near reef walls. When threatened, this fish will dive into a hole or crevice and raise its trigger spine so that it cannot be extracted.
The Clown Triggerfish is part of the family Balistidae, which consists of approximately forty species in eleven genera. About half of these make it into the aquarium trade. They are closely related to 9 other families, including, among others, cowfishes, filefishes, puffers and leatherjackets. Triggerfish have a deep-bodied, laterally compressed design with large, non-overlapping scales. Some species have forward curving spines on the posterior portions of their bodies that can be used for fighting.
The first dorsal fin is made up of three spines and can be depressed into a groove on the fish’s back. When erect, this spine can be locked into place by the second dorsal fin, known as the “trigger” spine (from which these fish derive their common name). When threatened or sleeping, triggerfish will wedge themselves into a cave or hole in the rockwork, erect the first dorsal spine, and lock it into place with the trigger spine. This makes them extremely difficult to extract by would-be predators. The soft fin rays are all branched, and there are no pelvic fins. The dorsal fins have 24 to 36 soft rays and the anal fins have 19 to 31 soft rays. Balistids have eyes that are set far from their mouths, and serve as protection from the claws and spines of typical prey such as crustaceans. They have small mouths, with fused jawbones and strong teeth designed for breaking up coral and rocks and crushing hard shells.
While a juvenile Clown Triggerfish can be kept in a community aquarium with more passive fish species, it will turn into a potentially murderous tankmate as it grows larger. I have seen and heard stories about large adult Clown Triggerfish that ignored fish neighbors in a larger aquarium for months or even years, and then, as if someone flipped a switch, the Clown Triggerfish goes crazy and starts tearing up the other fish. There are other individuals that seem to maintain a more stable demeanour and don’t become overly aggressive. Belligerent fish are the only suitable tankmates for most adult Clown Triggerfish. Species that are best-suited to live with a Clown Triggerfish include large groupers, Dampiera Dottybacks (Labracinus spp.), larger Maori wrasses (Cheilinus spp.), mean surgeonfish (e.g., Sohal Surgeonfish, Acanthurus shoal; Lined Surgeonfish, A. lineatus) and other aggressive triggerfish (e.g., Orangelined Triggerfish, Balistapus undulates). If you are lucky enough to get a clown triggerfish that is less of a sociopath, you may get away with large angelfish, various surgeonfish and rabbitfish. Keep only one Clown Triggerfish per aquarium. While Clown Triggerfish are not a good choice for most reef aquariums, as they feed on a wide range of invertebrates (including crustaceans, mollusks, sea stars and urchins), I have seen them in reef aquariums that were comprised mainly of soft corals. Some triggerfish will also bite the tips off of staghorn corals (Acropora spp.).
Clown Triggerfish should be kept in a tank that is large enough to give them plenty of open swimming space. It only seldom grows to it full size in aquariums and a 25cm Clown Triggerfish has to be considered large in aquariums. They have a rather long lifespan and can live to be over 10 years old in aquariums and even older in the wild. They should also be provided with rockwork containing holes where they can lodge themselves when feeling threatened by either the aquarist or larger aggressive fishes. The young Clown Triggerfish can be housed in an aquarium as small as 10 gallons. But it will outgrow an aquarium of this size quickly. If kept on its own, an adult Clown Triggerfish can live its entire life in an aquarium as small as 75 gallons, but if you want to house it with other fish, an aquarium of at least 180 gallons is best. One way to keep your Clown Triggerfish entertained is to place a lot of rubble on the aquarium bottom and add a handful of live ghost shrimp for the Clown Triggerfish to hunt. The Clown Triggerfish will lift chunks of rubble in its mouth as it tries to uncover concealed prey. The Clown Triggerfish will also use its power jaws to lift and move faux corals.
The water parameters for the Clown Triggerfish should be a pH of 8.1 to 8.4, a specific gravity of 1.019 to 1.025 and a water temperature of 23°C to 28°C.
The Clown Triggerfish is easy to feed and will accept most food types including flake food. In the wild they are omnivorous and the main part of their diet consists of sea urchins and other invertebrates. Feed your Clown Triggerfish a varied diet including meaty food and vegetables. A good diet can be built around high quality flake food that is complemented with chopped up sea food such as shrimps and clams as well as frozen food and vegetables. Feed your fish 1-2 times a day.
Maintaining a clean-up crew in a triggerfish tank can be difficult. Triggerfish’s jaws are designed to bite through the shells of snails and hermit crabs. They will also flip the animals onto their backs and enjoy an easy snack. Again, triggers with up-turned mouths are less likely to eat shelled organisms, but may still do it at times. Many hermit crabs will hide during the day, and only move around the rocks at night. With the larger, more aggressive triggers, the tank owner will most likely replace the clean-up crew because of the losses incurred.
The clown triggerfish has been known to attack its owner. I know of several incidences in which aquarists have ended up with stitches and scars as a result of clown triggerfish attacking their hand or arm as they rearranged the decor or cleaned the aquarium glass. When cleaning the tank, always keep an eye on the trigger and consider wearing thick gloves.
As with any marine aquarium fish, the key to successfully keeping a Clown Triggerfish is to do your homework beforehand, and since you have read this article your homework has been done and now the discussion is up to you, to decide if this is the right fish for you! If you are looking for a truly spectacular fish that can be as personable as a puppy and as unpredictable as a bull shark, then send in the clown – the Clown Triggerfish, that is!
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