Sometimes the hardest things in life isn’t about writing a captivating blog post, but coming up with a suitable title. Don’t let this curt, three worded headline fool you though. We’ve blogged about BlueHarbor’s cornucopia of rare fish so often that introductory salutations are nothing more than superfluous and repetitive titles by now.
But the carousel never stops turning, and for BlueHarbor, everyday is a merry go round in the rare fish stock exchange. For every time we visit, there’s never a shortage of rare fish to excite and captivate. Prized gems like Centropyge narcosis and Lipogramma klayi are but mere “pedestrian” commodities in a hub like this. On our last trip to BlueHarbor, we picked three rare fish that we felt deserve a closer look.
This fairy wrasse has been extensively talked about before, especially in our review of the lanceolatus group in the Fairy Wrasse series. If you’ve been following closely, you’ll know that this phenotype is not the original Cirrhilabrus claire, but an unknown variant. Cirrhilabrus claire was first known from the Cook Islands in the late 90s to early 2000s, making that region the type location for the species.
The original type is instantly recognised by having very erythric fins, often in shades of red, orange and yellow. In the recent years, a number of very similar looking Cirrhilabrus were collected from Tahiti, seemingly extending the geographical distribution of this species outside of the Cook Islands. Interestingly, the Tahitian populations represent a totally different color form, and in addition, possesses a thick black margin and blue submarginal band on its caudal fin. The two phenotypes are consistently different and have not been documented to overlap so far.
It seems unlikely that two distinct phenotypes would occur in such proximity without any isolation barriers. While both forms have not been recorded together for now, it might not be entirely implausible, seeing as so little deep water exploration occur in that region. Without comparing genetic material and physical samples of both phenotypes, the taxonomic status of the Tahitian population remains unknown for now.
The beautiful male in these photos started out as an immature female. Being protogynous hermaphrodites, it didn’t take long before it developed into its terminal phase. This fairy wrasse pair is still available for purchase should any aficionados wish to boost his or her repertoire.
The genus Plectranthias feature small to medium sized serranid fishes distributed in all major Oceans except the Southern and Arctic of the Earth’s polar ends. Despite their ubiquity, very little is known about their biology and distribution. In part, the majority of Plectranthias species prefer living in very deep waters, sometimes in depth ranges impenetrable by SCUBA or even rebreather diving. This, coupled with their taciturn and coy behaviour, makes obtaining suitable specimens challenging and frustrating.
As such, many of the deep water species are known only from holotypes obtained via deep sea trawling or line fishing. Representatives of some species even after description remain poorly documented in photos and museum collections, making the entire genus an indecipherable mess. There are undoubtedly more species waiting to be discovered, potentially doubling the genus in terms of known species.
One example is the Plectranthias above from Okinawa. The Japanese archipelago is theming with Plectranthias, many of which are not only new to science, but also seen in extreme infrequency. Commercial fishing trawlers and line fishing are just about the only way these ridiculously deep dwelling species are ever brought to light.
This unnamed species has never been captured alive before. Like many other species, it frequently takes to baited fishing lines, where it will ultimately meet its demise from the rapid ascend. The single specimen at BlueHarbor is the only one ever brought up alive, from 650ft on a hook in Okinawa. This “species” sports an attractive peach ground color with a medial row of disconnected blotches in the color of a Ferrero Rocher wrapper. The pattern is repeated again on the dorsum.
How this fish managed to survive the quick ascent is beyond imagination, but the sub adult specimen at BlueHarbor is fit as a fiddle and awaiting a new home.
Pseudanthias squamipinnis is the quintessential aquarium anthias familiar to novice and expert hobbyists alike. The species can be regarded as a large species flock with at least three other cryptic members with equal potential for splitting. The type species for P. squamipinnis originated from Mozambique, and the same phenotype is observed throughout the Indian Ocean. Moving into the Pacific Ocean, the phenotypes dramatically differ, with three notable crypts being found in the Melanesian, Indonesian and Japanese region respectively. The term “Pseudanthias cheirospilos” has been widely used, although without real scientific backing, to the Indonesian and Philippines populations.
The same can be said for the Japanese populations, which has been allocated with the name “Pseudanthias nobilis“. This becomes a classic case of “lumpers” v.s. “splitters” in the taxonomic world, with the former treating this as a junior synonym of a widely distributed species, and the latter treating this as a valid split worthy of species level. I personally feel that a split is justified and warranted, but regardless of your taxonomic stand, there is simply no denying that these are at least phenotypically distinct.
The “nobilis” phenotype is best recognized in having a pale body coloration stellated in a constellation of fine golden flecks. The posterior soft portion of the dorsal fin also harbours a large maroon spot. This attractive phenotype of the squamipinnis complex is seldom exported for the aquarium trade, and when it does get collected, it’s usually only in minuscule amounts.
That wraps up our short post on our BlueHarbor visit. Keep reading because the next installation on our Japanese escapades will feature some cool fish right up in the pantheon of rarity.