The illustrious and gaudily colored ventralis anthias is certainly no stranger to any saltwater hobbyist. The trailing ventral fins and exotic coloration of these fairy basslets are iconic and the species needs no introduction. The popularity of these difficult anthias rose way back when Cook Island shipments were commonplace in the hobby. While Cook Island shipments are hard to come by over the years, we still see many of these appearing in the trade all over the world, and yet each batch from different locales boasts of a fish with slightly altered coloration and designs.
It is well known that two distinct species of the ventralis anthias exists. The Hawaiian and Johnston atoll endemic which is predominantly yellow-brown (Pseudanthias ventralis hawaiiensis), and the more common “purple” form, Pseudanthias ventralis ventralis. A huge bulk of these ventralis anthias that appear in the trade now do not come from the Cooks, but rather, Marshall Islands and other areas. Now we mentioned above that all these specimens coming in from around the world show a varying degree of difference in terms of coloration.
The reason for this diversity is due to the incredible range in which the ventralis anthias dominates. Unlike the other species with an extremely limited range, P. ventralis subspecies ventralis inhabits much of the Pacific Ocean and the islands of oceania. This has caused some form of differentiation between each member inhabiting each locality within that range. A form of geographical variation if you must, and has led some scientists to believe that these are all separate species from the original. These “differentiated” members are all part of the ventralis complex, and are allocated temporary names such as Pseudanthias cf ventralis – 1. Specimens from the Great Barrier Reef, New Caledonia and Coral sea regions have a distinctive red region on the outer part of the dorsal fin, toward the tail region. The pair pictured right at the top of this article from BlueHarbor was collected in the Coral Sea and you can clearly see the red on the posterior dorsal.
The male and its trio of females pictured above by LiveAquaria came from the Marshall Islands, where the bulk of ventralis anthias entering the trade currently come from. Mature males from the Marshall Islands develop a large red patch in the middle of the tail. This characteristic is shared with the ventralis anthias that are found in the waters of Japan. Besides also being found in Japan, there have been unconfirmed reports that they are also found in the Philippines. The photo below is a specimen from Jacky Wong of Hong Kong that was supposedly obtained from there.
While the differences between all of them are subtle and not noticeable upon first glance, it is nice to know that we are getting alternative sources for these incredible but sensitive fishes. With the scarcity of Cook Island fishes in recent years, the availability of the ventralis anthias has not been compromised thanks to its big range in the wild. It would be nice however, to see the original Cook Island ventralis anthias again someday. The iconic fish from that little island.
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