Unlike many other surgeonfish, the palette surgeonfish Paracanthurus
hepatus feeds primarily on zooplankton and therefore requires a mix of
meaty and plant-based foods.
succeed with this species, but I don’t want to risk any more losses.
Do you have any recommendations?
High Point, North Carolina
The palette surgeonfish Paracanthurus hepatus has a
reputation for being frustratingly challenging to keep
alive, but you’ll find it’s really not that hard to care for
once its basic requirements are understood. For starters,
you’ll need a much larger aquarium than the one you presently have if
you hope to keep this species alive and in good health for the long term. A
minimum tank size of 125 gallons is much more appropriate for a palette
surgeonfish. Apart from more spacious quarters, P. hepatus demands
highly oxygenated water; a very low level of dissolved nutrients;
vigorous, turbulent water movement; and a varied, omnivorous diet.
This last point is frequently overlooked because most hobbyists assume
that P. hepatus, similar to most surgeonfishes, is primarily herbivorous.
While this species does require algae in its diet, it tends to feed more
heavily on zooplankton. Therefore, it requires a combination of nutritious
meaty and vegetable-based foods. Enriched mysid shrimp and finely
chopped seafoods will satisfy the former requirement, and spirulina
flakes, dried sushi nori, and frozen herbivore formulas will satisfy the
latter. You can also purchase frozen omnivore formulas that offer the best
of both worlds. The more varied the diet you provide, the better.
Also, P. hepatus is among the shyer surgeonfishes and should not be
kept with overly aggressive or boisterous tankmates, as they will tend
to outcompete it for food, or torment it to the point that it will avoid
I have a 60-gallon reef system with a 4-inch-deep sand
bed consisting of fine aragonite sand. The sand bed
seems pretty healthy, as I see lots of little amphipods, brittle stars,
worms, and other critters burrowing through it. About once a week,
I stir the top layer of the bed to keep it from clumping and siphon
out any detritus that floats up. My question is about the little
bubbles I have been seeing rising out of the sand bed when I stir
it. Do you think these could be hydrogen sulfide bubbles? I haven’t
noticed any foul odor coming from the tank when the bubbles rise,
but I’m worried that they could mean trouble ahead!
I’m inclined to believe that the bubbles you’re seeing
are not hydrogen sulfide but, rather, free nitrogen gas.
If hydrogen sulfide were brewing in your DSB and
releasing into your tank, you would be detecting a
distinct rotten-egg smell whenever the bubbles escaped. Also, based
on your description of the fauna in your DSB and the weekly stirring/
siphoning you’ve been doing, it doesn’t sound like the conditions in the
bed are conducive to the buildup of hydrogen sulfide. In fact, it sounds
to me as if you’re doing everything just as you should to maintain a
healthy sand bed.
In my humble opinion, your DSB is simply doing one of its key
jobs—natural nitrate reduction. That is, anaerobic bacteria deep
within the bed are converting nitrate to free nitrogen gas, which is then
released from the bed as bubbles that break at the surface, liberating the
nitrogen gas into the air. Keep up the good work!
Snail Shells Turning White
I hope you can help me figure out what’s happening
to my turbo snails. I added about a dozen of them
to my reef tank six months ago, and their shells had
developed a nice coat of pink-and-purple coralline algae. Recently,
I noticed that on several of the snails, the coralline on the top half
of the shell has turned almost white, while the bottom half has not
changed. My calcium and alkalinity levels are fine (420 ppm and 9
dKH, respectively), so I’m not sure what would be causing this. Do
you have any suggestions?