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Triggers & Filefishes

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General Information

Triggers & Filefishes are closely related and have many physical commonalities including two distinct dorsal fins, a single dorsal spine, spiny or rough skin rather than overlapping scales, fused jaw bones, strong teeth developed for nibbling, and all species lack pelvic fins. Coloration can range from dull to psychedelic. They are relatively poor swimmers and achieve propulsion by undulating wave motions in their dorsal and anal fins. The caudal fin is used only for emergency acceleration. Their eyes can also move independently of one another, which is unique among reef fishes.

Triggerfishes acquired their common name from the locking mechanism found in their dorsal spine. This fin is normally carried in a groove but can be locked into an erect position to prevent the fish from being eaten or pulled from a crevice in which it has taken refuge. Patterning around mouth is typically exaggerated, probably to deter rivals or predators. Triggers have strong, protrusive, chisel-like teeth adapted for crunching through hard parts of invertebrates such as crabs, mollusks, and sea urchins. Filefishes differ from Triggers in that they have one elongated dorsal spine that cannot be locked into position. Files’ bodies are more laterally compressed bodies and their scales are not as pronounced. Species in this family are shy and secretive, hiding among plants and corals and sometimes hanging vertically in the water column to further camouflage themselves.

Aquarium Care & Feeding

Filefishes have a shy temperament and make good additions to a community tank. Triggers’ behavior can range from peaceful to extremely aggressive, depending on the species. Provide plenty of hiding places (aquascaping) for these fishes and do not introduce them to a tank containing invertebrates. Some Filefishes are considered “reef safe,” but the fact that these fishes usually feed on polyps and algae in the wild might cause problems in a reef aquarium until they accept alternative foods. Once acclimatized to the aquarium environment, Triggers and Files well eat nearly anything that is offered, including formulated flakes and pellets as well as frozen meaty items.