News / Species Spotlight / Arrowhead Soapfish (Belonoperca chabanaudi) (08/21/18)

Arrowhead Soapfish (Belonoperca chabanaudi)

Species Spotlight - Arrowhead Soapfish (Belonoperca chabanaudi)
The muted colors and secretive habits of the Arrowhead Soapfish make it a phantom of the Indo-Pacific, a rarely seen specter haunting the regions darkest corners. To find it in the wild requires perseverance and a keen eye, but, with patience, its bright yellow spot soon reveals its presence behind some aquatic shadow.

Though it might be an uncommon sight, Belonoperca chabanaudi is actually said to be a fairly common fish, with a range that encompasses everywhere from South Africa to Japan, and as far east as the Phoenix Islands and French Polynesia. Strangely though, despite its broad distribution, you wont find this fish in the Red Sea, nor Hawaii. But why?

Belonoperca belongs to the soapfish tribe Grammistini, part of the large grouper family Epinephelidae (or Serranidae, depending on which taxonomist you ask). These fishes are well-known for the soapy chemicals produced by their skin, a distasteful defense against predators that can become quite dangerous within the confines of an aquarium. Species form this group have been known to wipe out entire fish tanks at times, though this is generally quite rare.

The genus Belonoperca is a small one, comprised of just two members. The Arrowhead Soapfish is named, of course, for its angular head, but the scientific name honors a poorly remembered French zoologist from the early 20th century, Paul Chabanaud, who specialized in flatfishes. Not surprisingly, he also has a tonguefish (a type of flatfish) named in his honor, as well as a rarely seen upside-down catfish from the Congo River. But he had more meaningful contributions to science than his name alone. Over the course of his career, Mssr. Chabanaud named over 90 new taxa of fishes from a wide variety of groups, both freshwater and marine.

The only other species from this genus is the famed Dr. Suess or Orangespotted Soapfish (B. pylei), a gaudy monstrosity from the rariphotic reefs of the Central Pacific. Both of these soapfishes are known from as far down as 120 meters (and possibly deeper still), but, whereas the rarely observed B. pylei isnt known much above 70 meters, Chabanauds grey ghost can be found into the very shallowest of waters. The favored habitat is dark recesses and caves, where it can be found gently hovering about in solitude or with the company of a select few close confidants.

In captivity, youll probably want just a single specimen, though a small group might also be possible. Belonoperca can be prone to bacterial infections and other mysterious maladies on arrival, so a good quarantine is recommended. But they are generally quick to adapt to aquarium life and soon learn to come out of their preferred hidey hole when food floats in front of their pointy piscine face. Meaty options like krill and mysis and chopped fish are recommended. Its important to appreciate that this is a timid creature, one that is best kept with like-minded individuals, the sort that would be loathe to harass it. Woe be to the aquarist whose soapfish is made to feel perturbed.