Dottybacks from the Red Sea, including the almost serpentine monochromatic Striped Dottyback, Pseudochromis sankeyi, have become staple offerings from ornamental marine fish breeders. Their widespread availability is bolstered by the fact that wild-caught versions of these species generally cost at least twice as much as the same species when captive-bred. Captive-bred dottybacks are incredibly resilient and hardy fishes.
Dottybacks’ reputation for aggression is, on the one hand deserved, but on the other hand, often blown out of proportion in my opinion. Sankeyi Dottybacks in particular have proven to be among some of the easiest going in captivity; in holding situations I’ve easily held a half dozen in tanks under 20 gallons with virtually no signs of aggression, and I’ve seen this repeated in the LFS environment as well.
In general, the Red Sea Dottybacks most commonly cultured are on the more passive side, being most aggressive towards other dottybacks. I’ve personally maintained several species of Dottybacks as pairs in tanks as small as 10-20 gallons with great success, and the only real problems of aggression have occurred at the hands of species which are rough on their mates. Of course, there are over 50 species of Pseudochromids; not all are small and many of the larger species are quite malicious; the commonly-offered captive-bred dottybacks, like Pseudochromis sankeyi, don’t fit in that category.
Still, some references suggest that all Dottybacks are “evil killing machines” when it comes to invertebrate life in aquariums, and no doubt there’s some truth to that. They are carnivorous micro-predators…they will gladly try to eat something like a hermit crab or small ornamental shrimp when the opportunity presents itself, but again, let’s not blow things out of proportion. I’m very aware of a pair of dottybacks that resides in the same broodstock aquarium along with an adult pair of Blood Red Shrimp, Lysmata debelius. No missing shrimp there.
Savvy breeders of clownfish have realized that they can often house both a pair of clownfish and a pair of dottybacks in the same broodstock aquarium, thus doubling the yield per tank when it comes to fry. Dottybacks are also often quick to spawn, so aspiring breeders won’t be waiting years on a pair like they can be with clownfish.
Regarding my offerings; Small Dottybacks are generally 1-2″ in length, juveniles that have hit salable size. Large Dottybacks are generally at or near adult sizes. Offerings for pairs are made from fish that have been cohabiting without major aggression for at least a couple weeks. All dottybacks may ship with some minor fin damage; this is par for the course when housing multiple dottybacks together, particularly if they are young pairs. Dottybacks can and will kill mates, or proposed mates, suddenly – we make no warranties or guarantees on pair stability nor your attempts to pair these fishes with existing mates.