A Fish With A Serious Personality

Ever since I was a little boy I’ve always been fascinated with Mother Nature and all of her trappings. I used to catch colored spiders and make homes for them in gallon jugs. Then there were the ants.  Ahhh yes…the ants…I saw the ads on TV in the late fifties and early sixties…HAVE YOUR OWN ANT FARM!!!!  the ads screamed. What did I need that for? I just went out into the yard or down the street to the local woods and find my own ant farms!  I’d dig up entire colonies…put them in gallon jugs, or small aquariums and watch them build awesome micro worlds right before my eyes.

When I was a kid,  my father had an interest in tropical fish. of course his love for these beautiful little creatures rubbed off on me in a BIG BIG way.  I couldn’t get enough!  I read every book or magazine I could find on the subject. I had to know where they were from,  what they ate, what sort of water conditions they preferred…I needed to know EVERYTHING and of course it was my duty,  my quest, to create the perfect environments for them to thrive and grow.  As time went on we raised many kinds of live bearing fish… guppies, and mollies and platys and swordtails and on and on….Dad on the other hand had a more sophisticated taste in his fish. He loved Silver Angels…(Pterophyllum scalare) and so we always had a few of them in our aquariums.  Silver Angels love to eat and one of their favorite foods is new born livebearers…guppies, and mollies and platys and swordtails and on and on…so this was one of the first “up close and personal Mother Nature moments” in my young life.  Hmmmm…they eat them???  The Angels sort of kept the population under control which though a sad reality, was necessary since our live bearers continued to reproduce in prodigious numbers.


Pterophyllum scalare - Angel Fish

Pterophyllum scalare – Angel Fish (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One afternoon while at a local beach in Brooklyn I had a moment that changed the game for me.  A couple of older kids were pulling a seine net thru the surf trying to catch some bait fsih to use to catch snappers.  When they beached the net it was full of incredible little animals!  There were plenty of the bait they were looking for…mostly spearing…but also juvenile game fish (flounder, blues and blowfish) tiny blue claw crabs, pipefish, small black seahorses, small hermit crabs, periwinkle snails, colored killifish, small almost transparent shrimp… wiggling , jumping, splashing and struggling to escape the net in the shallow waters.  I was transfixed.  I was amazed and I was hooked for life.  That night I told my father that we had to somehow figure out how to set up a saltwater aquarium in our home.  Dad explained that it was nearly impossible to keep saltwater fish alive at homeand back in the early 60’s he was right!  But from that moment on I was on a quest to do just that!

Let’s fast forward about 18 years shall we?  By now I’ve not only succeeded in keeping satwater fish and invertebrates alive in a home aquarium,  but now I’m in the import business.  I am one of the largest wholesalers in the United States…and possibly even the world!  I receive and ship vast quantites of live tropical marine fish to retail dealers all over the planet. And I am seeing a huge variety of exotic marine tropicals on a daily basis.  Dad was sufficiently impressed with my accomplishments.  As anyone who has had any experiences with marinefish will attest,  when they are taken care of properly,  given the right environment and diet,  they settle in and begin to show their “true colors” and their distinct and quite marvelous personalities.  I have had the immense pleasure of keeping many many species in my home and business aquariums but without a doubt,  the most fascinating,  the most beautiful, the most interesting,  and dare I say it,  the most intelligent marine fish specie is the Clown Trigger (Balistoides conspicillum)

English: Balistoides conspicillum, Balistidae,...

English: Balistoides conspicillum, Balistidae, Clown Triggerfish; Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde Karlsruhe, Germany. Deutsch: Balistoides conspicillum, Balistidae, Leopard-Drückerfisch; Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde Karlsruhe, Deutschland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Before I go any further,  yes it is well documented that the Octopus may be the most intelligent animal in the sea,  but the Octopus is not a fish..and rather an invertebrate member of the family of cephalopod molluscs of the order Octopoda.  Anyway I digress…


Anyone can look at the Clown Trigger and see it’s rather obvious physical beauty.  The colors are breathtaking.  The design and outline of the fish are such that it is a wonder that Mother Nature (remember her?) had the ability and utter audacity to create such an amazing sight to behold.  According to Wikipedia…”

Clown triggerfish

Clown triggerfish (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The clown triggerfish is a small sized fish which grows up to 50 cm.[1] Its body has a stock appearance, oval shape and compressed laterally. The head is large and represents approximately one third of the body length. The mouth is small, terminal and has strong teeth.[1] The first dorsal fin is composed of three spines, one of which is longer and stronger. It is erectile and hidden in a dorsal furrow. This set of dorsal spines composed a trigger system which is a characteristic from the family Balistidae. The second dorsal fin is similar in shape and size to the anal fin which is symmetrically opposed to it. The pelvic fin is reduced to a ventral protrusion.[1]

All of the stats don’t describe how intelligent a creature this is.  Provide the right home,  in as large of an aquarium as possible (I would suggest nothing less than 100 gallons) and the animal will become as friendly, inquisitive and funny as your dog. They eat a variety of foods and it is smart to provide a wide selection because I have found after many years, th like any animal,  they become bored with the same old, same old.  And they are not afraid to let you know about it.  I had a trigger that spit water at me when it wasn’t happy with dinner.  Another individual I had was eating live foods until one day, tired of chasing them around the tank, became “friends” with several of his intended dinners and would not chase any more.  2 years ago,  after Hurrican Irene hit us, we had an unfortunate blackout and prolonged period of no power.  A really wonderful Clown Trigger I had suffered what can only be described as a stroke.  For the next year I fed the fish a wide variety of seafoods trying to help it recover from it’s malady. There was a catch though…it would only accept the foods I offered from the end of a fork! I carried out my duties day and night until about 14 months later it died peacefully one night.  Ahhhh…a sad but true story.  I have purchased a generator and had my house wired to prevent another such disaster from being replayed in the future.

Clown Triggerfish, New Hanover Island, Papua N...

Clown Triggerfish, New Hanover Island, Papua New Guinea. Image taken by Clark Anderson/Aquaimages. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Clown Triggers will swim thru hoops,  with take foods from your fingers ( but be careful…sharp teeth and powerful jaws…they crush crabs and shrimps in the ocean) I even had one that liked to have it’s tail petted.

I am currently in possesion of a juvenile Clown Trigger that is approximately 2 1/2 inches long.  It is already displaying it’s marvelous personality and it’s affinity for great seafood.  I try to keep the menu exciting.  This little individual (my daughter has named her Martha) loves bloodworms…the small frozen kind they use for freshwater tropical fish.  She can’t seem to get enough of them. She also chows down on mysis shrimp, the dry Omega-1 tropical fish flakes and romaine lettuce….yup romaine lettuce.  Just be sure to wash it in cool water before you feed.  Don’t want to bring any pesticides or foreign material into your aquarium.

A Clown Triggerfish (Balistoides conspicillum)...

A Clown Triggerfish (Balistoides conspicillum) (Balistoides conspicillum on FishBase). Raging Horn, Osprey Reef, Coral Sea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Clown Triggerfish are generally available for sale wherever Marine Tropical Fish are available. They are fairly expensive so and you should have some experience with marine aquariums before you try them. It’s always best to discuss your ideas with a qualified aquarium professional before you purchase anything. If you are on Long Island in New York I’d refer Gene Sanchez at Tropical Showcase in  Hicksville or  DonGortner at the Aquahut in Coram. These gents have been at this for MANY YEARS and they know what they are doing.  They can help you!

There are also countless books available with a world of information available and of course the web has loads of great reading was well.




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7 Responses to A Fish With A Serious Personality

  1. Pingback: A Fish With A Serious Personality | Joe Refano's BIG MOUTH

  2. Bill Deegan says:

    Very interesting article. I admire your talents in this area as mine is limited to keeping a few goldfish, a frog and a small catfish alive in my 22 gallon tank. I do find an aquarium a very relaxing and interesting addition to th home.

    • joeref says:

      I have a 4000 gallon pond in the backyard with several goldfish, a nice large channel catfish and a bunch of large koi. I’m into it…what can I say? And because I was inthat business I know my way around the fish. Been playing with tehm for over 50 years! Yikes ! ! ! ! Did I just say that???? Whoa !

  3. Joanne F says:

    What Bill said. I can’t even say I’ve ever had luck with fish. Dogs, you betcha. Fish I’ve always found fascinating but difficult to maintain properly. Good for you, what a fish story that was! 🙂

  4. Dorothy Sent says:

    I always knew you loved fish from when you were very little. You are very learned and your article was very interesting and informative. You should have written for the newspapers you are very talented.

    Sent from my iPad

    • joeref says:

      Spoken like a true mother! At one time I considered writing for a newspaper or magazine but honestly the pay was miserable! LOL

      Sent from my Eye Phone

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