DAVE WOLFENDEN

If you fancy a chal­lenge, and you’re pre­pared to go that ex­tra mile in pro­vid­ing the right en­vi­ron­ment, tile­fish can make mar­vel­lous ad­di­tions to the marine aquarium. They’re reef friendly, too! Here’s how to suc­ceed with these beau­ti­ful fish...

Practical Fishkeeping (UK) - - Welcome - WORDS: DAVE WOLFENDEN

is cu­ra­tor at the Blue Planet Aquarium in Cheshire Oaks. He ex­plains how to suc­ceed with tile­fish in the marine tank.

Some groups of fish are bul­let­proof and easy to care for, able to fit in with a wide va­ri­ety of tank mates and adapt to a range of sys­tems — the tile­fish are not one of them. These ner­vous, de­mand­ing fish are a chal­lenge to keep suc­cess­fully, and some thought needs to be put into whether they’re right for your sys­tem — they are cer­tainly a very bad im­pulse buy! Given tai­lored con­di­tions and ex­pert care, how­ever, they can be fab­u­lous choices for spe­cialised reef or peace­ful fish-only sys­tems.

Who are you calling a goby?

De­spite of­ten be­ing re­ferred to as ‘tile go­bies’ in the trade, the tile­fish are not go­bies. They be­long in their own fam­ily, Mala­can­thi­dae. There are two sub­fam­i­lies:

• Mala­can­thi­nae (16 species). Known as sand tile­fish on ac­count of their habit of fre­quent­ing the sand and rub­ble zones of the reef ’s edge and dart­ing into the sub­strate when star­tled, many species are found from 15-30m in depth. There are two gen­era:

Mala­can­thus (three species, all of which reach 30cm-plus in length), and Ho­plo­latilus (13 species, which in­cludes the small­est and most colour­ful of the tile­fish; most spec­i­mens in the trade are from this genus). Sand tile­fish are elon­gated in shape, with con­tin­u­ous dor­sal and anal fins and forked tails; they’re built for swift, dart­ing move­ment and ma­noeu­vra­bil­ity. Be­haviourally, they tend to be di­ur­nally ac­tive. They hover over the seabed and feed more-or­less con­stantly through­out the day, re­treat­ing into bur­rows at night for safety. Due to the size the Mala­can­thus species can reach, Ho­plo­latilus is the go-to genus. The Blue blan­quillo, Mala­can­thus la­tovit­ta­tus, is some­times avail­able, but it grows to be a hand­ful.

• Latili­nae (29 species). These are of lit­tle in­ter­est to aquar­ists thanks to their drab colours and larger size — some reach over a me­tre in length. They are com­mer­cially fished for food.

Get the aquas­cape right

The size and lay­out of the tank are very im­por­tant to make tile­fish feel at home. In spite of the small size of many

Ho­plo­latilus species, a min­i­mum tank vol­ume of 250 l/55 gal or so is best for the smaller species. Ideal tile­fish lodg­ings in­clude a rea­son­ably deep (10cm+), ex­ten­sive layer of sand into which the fish can bur­row, along with var­i­ously­sized chunks of rub­ble. This mixed sub­strate will be used by the tile­fish to cre­ate bur­rows in which they can hide, and it’s a key fea­ture for any sys­tem hous­ing them. Due to their in­dus­tri­ous re­work­ing of the tank’s sub­strate, they can top­ple rock­work so en­sure ev­ery­thing is se­curely fixed in place.

Ad­di­tional rocky over­hangs and caves

in the lower reaches of the tank will go a long way to help­ing the fish es­tab­lish and feel se­cure. On bal­ance, the per­fect sys­tem would be based around a deeper wa­ter reef edge with sub­dued light­ing, but given suit­able con­di­tions for bur­row­ing and has­sle-free tank mates, most species can adapt well to typ­i­cal reef con­di­tions.

Be­cause of their ner­vous dis­po­si­tion, tile­fish are renowned jumpers, so some form of lid or cover is pretty much manda­tory when keep­ing them.

Keep it peace­ful

Tile­fish tend to be very shy and re­tir­ing, so they need easy-go­ing tank mates. Def­i­nitely avoid trig­gers, puffers and large an­gels if you’re main­tain­ing them in a fish-only or FOWLR tank, but even damsels and other small-but-ter­ri­to­rial fish can pose prob­lems in reef sys­tems. In­stead, car­di­nals, dart­fish, go­bies and an­thias can work well.

With many tile­fish, it’s pos­si­ble to house pairs in the same sys­tem; in fact, this is the pre­ferred way to keep them and max­imise the chances of suc­cess — even trios can work well. Spawn­ing be­hav­iour has been re­ported in a few species, but clos­ing the life cy­cle in cap­tiv­ity will in­volve con­quer­ing the chal­lenges associated with col­lect­ing and rear­ing the minute pelagic lar­vae.

Be­ing plank­ti­vores, they pose no threat to ses­sile in­ver­te­brates, and only the tini­est or­na­men­tal crus­taceans are at risk of pre­da­tion from these fish.

Buy wisely

Se­lect­ing a healthy tile­fish from the get-go is ab­so­lutely vi­tal. Be­cause many come from rea­son­ably deep wa­ter, it’s im­por­tant to check for de­com­pres­sion dam­age be­fore buy­ing one; this man­i­fests it­self as un­usual swim­ming pat­terns such as a fail­ure to swim hor­i­zon­tally. Avoid any spec­i­men that shows frayed fins, and make sure any prospec­tive pur­chase is feed­ing. In the dealer’s tank, tile­fish may be skit­tish and re­served, but fail­ure to feed and star­va­tion

prior to pur­chase are com­mon prob­lems — you want one that’s feed­ing and rea­son­ably set­tled from the off.

As tile­fish are very ner­vous they should be ac­cli­mated in dark con­di­tions, then al­lowed to set­tle in for a few days; don’t be sur­prised if yours hide away for a while after in­tro­duc­tion. In gen­eral, smaller spec­i­mens adapt bet­ter than larger adults. If you can dial the light­ing down after in­tro­duc­tion, ramp­ing it up over the fol­low­ing few days, then this can help greatly.

Ide­ally you’ll be quar­an­tin­ing any new ac­qui­si­tions as they can carry a range of pathogens such as whitespot. How­ever, bear in mind that a typ­i­cal bare-bot­tomed quar­an­tine tank is ter­ri­ble for these fish and a bare-bones, ster­ile tank will sim­ply add to the fish’s stress lev­els while it’s al­ready vul­ner­a­ble.

There­fore, pro­vide some sub­strate for bur­row­ing and plenty of cover (short lengths of PVC pipe are ideal) in the quar­an­tine tank. Ob­serve the fish closely while it’s in quar­an­tine, and be pre­pared to treat promptly should it show any signs of par­a­sitic dis­ease or sec­ondary bac­te­rial in­fec­tions.

Blue jaw tile­fish, Ho­plo­latilus star­cki.

Tile­fish re­quire a sub­strate of rub­ble and sand in which they can cre­ate bur­rows.

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