Coral reef fish use some pretty ingenious ways to capture their food, but none employ a more amazing feeding technique as the frogfish (known in some parts of the world as anglerfish). These fish have a modified fin spine on the head that is used as a fishing rod. In most species, there is a lure on the end of this rod that is thrown about or held in front of the frogfish’s back end. When a hungry fish attempts to feed on the would-be prey item, it suddenly finds itself being sucked into the mouth of the wily frogfish! The painted frogfish (Antennarius pictus) is one of the most commonly seen species in the aquarium trade where it is often sold simply as a “colored anglerfish.”
Difficulty: The painted frogfish and its kin are not for everyone. They spend most of their time in repose on the reef substrate. Painted frogfish are rather susceptible to parasites and can be difficult to treat. Probably the best method of treatment for many of the common parasites is to reduce the specific gravity to 1.014 for several weeks. Antennarius pictus is also an eating machine that will consume any fish or crustacean that it can swallow whole. They are best left to the more advanced fishkeeper that has had some experience dealing with parasites and long-term fish care. While the occasional painted frogfish may settle for a piece of krill or chopped seafood on the end of a feeding stick, most Antennarius pictus will need a live damsel or crustacean to entice them to feed. Do not feed goldfish, but instead offer them livebearers (e.g., mollies) or ghost shrimp that have been gut-packed (i.e., fed a nutritious flake or frozen food before they are given to the frogfish). It is best to feed your painted frogfish two or three times a week.
Physical description: The painted frogfish and its relatives look like grumpy old men with their upturned frown and beady little eyes. They are unique in that they have modified pectoral fins that are more like arms with an actual elbow joint and fin rays that are like hands. They can “gallop” over the bottom on their pectoral and pelvic fins, or most by ejecting water out of the gill opening (which are small apertures located at the base of the pectoral fin) to propel themselves along via jet propulsion. You can’t use its color to tell the painted frogfish apart from the other 50-plus species. Color is meaningless when it comes to telling most Antennarius species apart. In the case of Antennarius pictus, the color can be white, black, red, orange, yellow, brown, green, lavender, etc. The painted frogfish usually has light-bordered spots on the fins and body. It reaches over 8 inches in length.
Range: The painted frogfish is a resident of the Indo-Pacific (East Africa east to the Hawaiian Islands) and is found on coral reefs and among debris on open sand or mud flats and slopes. The painted frogfish lurks the shallows down to a depth of at least 240 feet.
Compatibility: If you want to have long-term success with Antennarius pictus or any other frogfish, please consider keeping it on its own. It is such a mega-predator that it is likely to devour any fish tankmate that can be swallowed whole. This potential problem becomes more apparent when you look at the size of the frogfish’s jaws and mouth cavity. When they slurp up a prey organism, the volume of the frogfish may increase by up to 12 times! The painted frogfish can eat prey items longer than it is. A more elongate fish can simply be folded over in their pliable stomach. On the other side of the coin, they are sometimes picked on by fish that feed on invertebrate-encrusted substrate. Fish like angelfish, butterflyfish, triggerfish and pufferfish have been known to bite at them, which can result in mutilation and even death. You can house the painted frogfish with sessile invertebrates (e.g., sponges, corals, tube worms), but they will make short work of ornamental shrimp, while larger crabs (e.g., Dardanus hermit crabs) may attack and injure your painted frogfish.
Aquarium conditions: The painted frogfish do not actively move about the aquarium. The painted frogfish are true piscine “couch potatoes” — they will simply remain still and wait for food to come to them. The painted frogfish will appreciate some decor on which to perch and feel safe — in a tank without any structure, they will move about incessantly as they search for a secure roost. A pH of 8.1 to 8.4, specific gravity of 1.019 to 1.025 and a water temperature of 74 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit is preferable for your painted frogfish.
Care considerations: Color change is something that the potential painted frogfish owner should be aware of, as these fish are prone to transforming from dramatic to dull. The more colorful the painted frogfish, the more you will pay for it. The problem is that your bright red Antennarius pictus may turn mud brown or even black.
Breeding: The painted frogfish will spawn in captivity. The female exudes a ribbonlike structure known as an egg raft, which floats about in the open ocean. After a couple of days, the embedded eggs hatch.