News / Species Spotlight / Species Spotlight - Hawaiian Damselfish (Dascyllus albisella) (08/09/17)

Species Spotlight - Hawaiian Damselfish (Dascyllus albisella)

Species Spotlight - Hawaiian Damselfish (Dascyllus albisella)
Coral reefs have a reputation for colorful fishes, but theres something to be said for a stately fish dressed in black and white. For instance, the Hawaiian Damselfish (Dascyllus albisella). This attractive species is a close relative of the ubiquitous Domino Damselfish (D. trimaculatus), but, while that fish remains mostly black or grey in adulthood, the mature D. albisella is washed across its midbody with a stark white. Interestingly though, the juveniles come equipped with the same spotted patterning seen in its Indo-Pacific cousin, illustrating the close relatedness these fishes share.

As the name suggests, this fish is a Hawaiian endemic. Further south, in the Phoenix and Line Islands of Polynesia, we encounter another lovely member of this group, the Golden Domino Damselfish (D. auripinnis), as well as what are presumed to be undescribed species in French Polynesia and Fiji. This group, as a whole, is sorely in need of study to determine the extent of its true biodiversity, but this mystery only adds to its appeal, no?

The Domino Damselfishes have a dubious reputation in the confines of an aquarium, as they are quite often on the pugnacious side. This, however, entirely depends on the choice of tankmates. When placed alongside suitably robust fishes, there is seldom any issue, and, contrary to expectations, its often the damselfish which bears the brunt of aggression. But, if foolishly mixed with timid species, Dascyllus will quickly become lord of the fish tank, raining furious vengeance down upon all those who would dare cross its path. Woe be the little fish which enters the territory of a Domino Damselfish.

Dascyllus is a close relative of the Chromis damselfishes, and the two share some notable similarities in their behavior and ecology. Both tend to be schooling and are frequently associated with stony corals, which they will often use for refuge. Both are also fairly omnivorous in their dietary preferences, consuming a wide range of planktonic algae, invertebrates and fish eggs. Their small mouths typically require relatively small foods in captivity, which can make a fish like the Hawaiian Damselfish a fantastic addition alongside larger, messier fishes. Does your pufferfish or triggerfish make an awful mess (yes, of course), then consider adding a Dascyllus to help clean up its mess.

A word of caution, though, Dascyllus do not typically play well among themselves, and its quite common for a dominant individual (most likely male) to bully subordinates, particularly in smaller aquariums. This is a frustrating experience for those trying to keep their damselfishes in groups, but what works in nature doesnt always work at home. For this reason, it is best to either keep a single specimen or to purchase a group of juveniles all at once, removing any specimens which begin to be chased excessively. In this way, it is quite likely that a breeding pair or harem will be established, and it is not uncommon for eggs to eventually be laid.