News / Species Spotlight / Griffis Angelfish (Apolemichthys griffisi) (04/24/18)

Griffis Angelfish (Apolemichthys griffisi)

Species Spotlight - Griffis Angelfish (Apolemichthys griffisi)
Out on the remote reefs of the Central Pacific lurks one of the most peculiarly patterned and rarely seen of the larger angelfishes: Apolemichthys griffisi. Aquarium specimens are mostly collected from Kiritimati (AKA Christmas Island) or the Marshall Islands, but the species spans a wide distribution, with records from the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and even Sulawesi.

But despite its wide occurrence, this is a fish which is seldomly seen in the wild, and there are vast parts of its presumed range which have yet to reveal its presence. For instance, no one has ever reported A. griffisi from French Polynesia, though it seemingly must occur there. The same holds true for Palau and Fiji and Tonga and the Cook Islands.

Theres good reason for this. Though this species has been observed in waters as shallow as 10 meters, it is most often encountered along steep outer reefs in mesophotic depths, up to at least 110 meters. Even in its preferred niche it seems to be only sporadically sighted. Combine all these factorsremote biogeography, deep habitats, general scarcityand we have all the makings of a rare and expensive aquarium fish.

The first specimen of Griffis Angelfish was procured from the Phoneix Islands by renowned aquarist Dr. Bruce Carlson and was described in a 1981 edition of the now defunct magazine Freshwater and Marine Aquarium (FAMA). The story goes that an individual came into the aquarium and photographed this fish in its exhibit, with the intention of unscrupulously naming the species. Not wanting to be scooped, Bruce leapt into action and had his article appear in the very next issue of FAMA. The scientific name honors a donor to the New York Aquarium who financed several collecting trips, a Mr. Nixon Griffis.

As far as aesthetics go, A. griffisi is arguably the pinnacle of its genus. Juveniles, which are infrequently seen, have a cream base coloration accented with a black bar through the eye, a black blotch on the dorsal fin and an oblique black triangle across the body. As the fish matures, a bright white band develops along the back, making for an especially sleek look. In many ways, this is a close parallel to that seen in the Bandit Angelfish; however, the two are not thought to be closely related.

As with most pomacanthids, A. griffisi is thought to feed heavily upon sponges in the wild, perhaps with a little garnish of algae and other sessile invertebrates. Conditioned aquarium specimens will adapt to a variety of aquarium fare, such as frozen mysis shrimp and high-quality pellet foods, but it is always wise to incorporate as much sponge into the diet as possible. Fleshy corals are at risk of the occasional nibble, making this a fish of limited suitability in reef aquariums, though most soft corals and SPS will be left alone.