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Queen Triggerfishes are being Reared in Captivity

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Aquarists from the New England Aquarium and Roger Williams University reported the first ever captive rearing of the queen triggerfish, Balistes vetula.  Announced in September of 2009, this is considered a significant step forward in marine fish conservation, as this species, much in demand in the pet trade, is listed as threatened by the IUCN.

Conservation Implications

Queen TriggerfishThe gorgeous Queen Triggerfish, which approaches 3 feet in length, is the one of the most sought after of the triggerfish species regularly sold in the US pet trade.  Despite numerous captive breeding records, young triggerfishes have proven impossible to rear in captivity.  This situation, and the high prices (to $500) commanded by adult specimens, fuels an unsustainable trade in wild caught queen triggerfishes. 

Others of the world’s 30+ triggerfish species are harvested for food.  The gray triggerfish, found off the coast of the Southeastern USA and in the Gulf of Mexico, has been driven to near extinction by overfishing.  It is hoped that lessons learned in the recent rearing success can be applied to other species as well.

Rearing Queen Triggerfishes

The subjects of the successful rearing effort began life as eggs produced by a mated pair of Queen Triggerfishes residing in the NE Aquarium’s 2,500 gallon Bahama Reef Exhibit.  The pair had successfully bred in the past, but the fry failed to thrive. 

The eggs were transported to Ornamental Fish Laboratory at Roger William’s University, where they hatched.  Aquarists at the lab consider a diet of live copepods as being vital in rearing the tiny fishes (please see article below).

Keeping Queen Triggerfishes

Despite breathtaking beauty and interesting behavior, Queen Triggerfishes are not ideal aquarium subjects for most aquarists.  Among the most aggressive of all aquarium fishes, adults often attack any and all tank-mates, including fishes much larger than themselves, and make meals of most invertebrates.  Airline tubing, heater tubes and even hands are frequently targeted, and all but the largest rocks and corals will be moved about regularly.

That being said, a pair of Queen Triggerfishes in a pristine marine aquarium of 500 gallons or so in capacity is quite a spectacle (a single adult may be housed in a 200 gallon aquarium), and I do hope that the recent success will be repeated by private aquarists. These fish are not seen as often in the trade as they used to be, and sadly, the current situation in the Gulf of Mexico may make these and other species that share their range even less frequent.

Smaller Species

A number of the Queen Trigger’s cousins are better suited to those with smaller aquariums (and budgets!), but all require a great deal of care, and none are to be trusted in community aquariums.  Many will, however, become quite responsive to their owners, and all are highly aware of the world outside their aquariums. 

Those interested in keeping these spectacular but challenging fishes might consider the Huma-Huma Triggerfish (Rhinecanthus aculeatus), the Bursa Triggerfish (R. verrucosus) or the Bluethroat triggerfish (Xanthichthys auromarginatus), which top out at 8-12 inches in length.

A College Program for Aquarists

I was pleased to learn that, in conjunction with the New England Aquarium, Roger Williams University now offers an undergraduate program in Aquarium Science and Aquaculture.  For further information, please click here.

Further Reading

For more information on husbandry, please see our article Introduction to Triggerfishes.

A large supply of live copepods was found essential in raising queen triggerfishes.  To read more about this most valuable food item, please see our article Bugs in my Aquarium?


Please write in with your questions and comments. 


Thanks, until next time,

Frank Indiviglio

Queen Trigger image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Clark Anderson/Aquaimages

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.