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Choosing a Batfish

By: Dr. Amy Wolff

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The batfish (Platax spp.) is instantly recognizable in the saltwater aquarium by its spectacular fins and dramatic stripes. Natives of the Indo-Pacific, batfish are often found in coastal areas, mangrove swamps and brackish water. Brackish is a term that refers to the water in areas where rivers flow into oceans. The water has a higher salt content than fresh but lower than that of sea water and is typically murky. Batfish are peaceful tank inhabitants that grow quickly and are easy to feed.

Appearance and Behavior

Batfish are prized in the aquarium for their tall fins, which can reach 20 inches or more. They have an ovoid shaped body and are rather flat, almost disappearing when you look at them head-on. This flat shape aids the fish in swimming in and out of mangrove roots where they scavenge for food. The flat shape also acts as a defense mechanism. Batfish have an unusual habit of "playing dead." They lay motionless on their sides and resemble floating leaves if threatened. In the aquarium, they move slowly and peacefully. In their native habitats, batfish congregate in schools.

Young batfish have more coloration than adults. The red-faced batfish (Platax pinnatus) has distinctive red margins outlining the fins, which fade as the fish ages.

Feeding and Tank Requirements

Batfish are scavengers and will eat almost any plant or animal foods offered. Try frozen foods, beef heart, fish filet and tubifex worms. They grow quickly and require a spacious tank. An adult batfish will require a tank of 100 gallons or more to accommodate its large fins. Batfish do best when kept alone or in a species tank. The large fins are often injured by faster moving, fin-nipping tank mates.

Special Concerns

When you buy your fish, look for younger smaller specimens. Batfish will grow quickly and can soon need new living quarters. Regular but small meals may slow their growth rate.

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