The Panda sweetlips, Plectorhincus picus

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Matt Clarke looks at a marine fish for those with larger fish-only aquaria.

Common name: Panda sweetlips

Scientific name: Plectorhincus picus

Origin: Indo-Pacific. Common around the Seychelles, but rare in most of the western Indian Ocean. Around Australia, the range extends from the Great Barrier Reef to southern New South Wales.

Habitat: Rock and coral reefs in tropical and some temperate areas.

Size: At up to 80cm/31" in the wild, this is a very large fish only suitable for those with enormous aquaria. It's caught for the trade and for food.

Diet: Molluscs and crustaceans form much of the natural diet, so whole shrimps and cockles are a good choice. Young fish will take most frozen foods.

Aquarium: The large potential size makes this a very specialist marine fish. You need a tank of at least 244 x 61 x 61cm/8' x 2' x 2', plus an enormous filter and skimmer. Keep only with other large, robust fishes.

Notes: Like many haemulids, this fish loses its looks in later life. This specimen is already starting to lose its attractive black-and-white juvenile colouration, which would have been even more striking when the fish was smaller. Adults change in colour and shape to become a predominantly silver fish with tiny black spots all over the body, with darker fins.

Identification: There are 37 species in the genus. P. picus is sometimes confused with P. chaetodonoides. Dorsal fin and anal fin ray formulae are similar, but chaetodonoides is slimmer with smaller spots.

Do not confuse P. picus with P. pictus - this is a different species, although the adults do look similar.

Availability: Not often seen for sale, given the size of adult fish. This fish was on sale at Hollybush Aquatics, Wolverhampton.

Price: The fish pictured was on sale for 24.95, but these usually sell for 34-60 depending on size.

This article was first published in the April 2004 issue of Practical Fishkeeping magazine.