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Choosing a Snapper

By: Barbie Bischof

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Snappers are a large group of predatory fish in the Lutjanidae family found around coral reefs and tropical seas. Some can reach sizes of more than 3 feet in length. In nature, they feed on small animals such as smaller fish and invertebrates like shrimp. They usually hunt at night, although species such as the yellowtail snapper, common in the Caribbean, roam the reef during the day as well.

Like grouper, snappers are generally not the easiest fish to keep because of their odd habits and incompatibility with – or appetite for – other fish. Many species can adapt well as juveniles but they grow quickly and need lots of space. They are generally schooling fish and can be kept only in large tanks with fish that are the same size or bigger since anything smaller will eventually become dinner.

Varieties of Snapper

Only a few of these species are suitable for a home aquarium.

  • Emperor. Lutjanus sebae are the most popular and, as many maintain, the most beautiful of all the snappers. Their base color is a rust to orange-red with three very thick white vertical bands that appear to swoop down and out from the dorsal fin. The emperor is native to the Indo-Pacific region and requires a diet of meaty foods, such as live brine shrimp or chopped up fish or beef heart. They will also eat flakes and vegetable matter and just about anything else that fits into their mouths. The fish can grow to more than 3 feet in length in its natural environment, but they are usually not aggressive unless they feel cramped. On a good diet, they will quickly outgrow most tanks, so be sure you know what you are getting into if you choose this fish.

  • Blue-lined. Lutjanus kasmira are easy to care for when they are juveniles. Like the emperors, they come from the Pacific and have a golden to lemon-yellow body and bright sky-blue horizontal stripes. Their bodies are more elongate and streamlined than the usual snapper, with a gently sloping forehead leading to the tail. They eat anything that is smaller than they are, and they like to school.

  • Threadfin. Symphorichthys spilurus is endemic to waters around the Philippines. These are typically solitary and found rummaging around reefs in search of small invertebrates and fish. Like the blue-lined snapper, they, too, are a golden yellow with thin blue horizontal stripes, but they also have two vertical dark reddish and orange bands in the head region and a dark spot with an outline of blue near the base of the tail. Their shape is less streamlined and more "disk-like" from the side with a steep slope rising to the forehead. Their most notable feature, however, is the long trailing filaments on the dorsal fin. They require meat and, like other snappers, a nearly constant supply of food.

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