The Harlequin Sweetlips Fish

  • Species name: Plectorhinchus chaetodonoides
  • Common names: Harlequin sweetlips, Clown Sweetlips
  • Family: Haemulidae (Grunts)
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Maximum length: 28.3 in.
  • Minimum tank size: 200 gallons

Hardiness: Difficult. Experts Only! Juveniles often starve in captivity and must not be kept with aggressive tank mates. Most of them die in a short time.

They are often captured with drugs (cyanide). The effects of these drugs may take a while to manifest and may be a cause of death.

Aggressiveness: Peaceful. Do not keep with aggressive tank mates.

Reef Compatibility: With caution. Will eat smaller crustaceans, smaller fireworms, serpent stars, small snails, and polychaete worms.

Distribution: Indian Ocean: Maldives and Cocos Islands. Western Pacific: Sumatra to Fiji and New Caledonia, north to Ryukyu Islands, south to Rowley Shoals.

Diet: Carnivore. In the wild, they feed on crustaceans, mollusks, and fish at night. The biggest drawbacks to keeping this species in captivity is getting it to eat. When first introduced into the aquarium, live food such as shrimp and black worms can be used to trigger feeding. Feeding should be easier in tanks with no aggressive eaters. Once it has acclimated, it should accept most meaty preparations. However, sometimes it will eat for weeks or months and then cease eating and die for no apparent reason. This may be the results of an incomplete diet or the use of drugs. Feed them 2-3 times a day.

The Harlequin sweetlips, also known as Clown sweetlips, or Harlequin sweetlips is native to the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific where it can be found at depths of 10 to 100 feet. Juveniles are found among corals in lagoons and seaward reefs while adults live in deeper water under ledges or in caves. They hide during the day and come out to feed at night.

The Harlequin changes color as it matures.

Juveniles under about 3 inches (see image above) are brown with large white dots and white-and-black fins. They swim with the head pointing down and with exaggerated fin movements. The colours and movement mimic poisonous nudibranch or flatworm and usually keep predators away.
As they grow, the body color changes to white with brown spots on the body and fins, which becomes more numerous.

The Clown sweetlips will grow large and will need a 200-gallon tank (larger is better) with ample swimming room and hiding places. The tank should provide it with plenty of hiding places to reduce stress. It is also best to keep Harlequin with peaceful tank mates.

Ideally, water temperature should be at 72-78ºF, specific gravity at 1.020-1.025 and pH between 8.1 and 8.4.

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