Here is a short list of some of the more popular filefish species entering the aquarium trade with a brief husbandry summary.
Sea grass or Bristle-tailed Filefish
(Acreichthys tomentosus). 3.9 inches. This species is often employed to rid tanks of noxious sea anemones. While it is usually well-behaved in the presence of other cnidarians, it may occasionally stray and nip at coral polyps. Keep one per tank, unless the aquarium is extra large (180 gallons or more) or you can acquire a male-female pair. It usually ignores other fish species. Adults can be housed in tanks of 55-gallons or more.
(Aluterus scriptus). 39 inches. As a juvenile, this species will acclimate to a larger aquarium, but because it gets so large, adults are usually not suitable for the vast majority of home aquariums. Its normal diet includes algae, gorgonians and zoanthids. Adults will need to be kept in tanks of 500 gallons or more.
Tasseled or Leafy Filefish
(Chaetoderma penicilligera). 12.2 inches. The young of this species are adorned with dermal appendages, which tend to decrease in size as the fish grows. It is a durable aquarium species, but it has a dubious reputation when it comes to living with invertebrates. Adults have been known to eat polychaete worms and crustaceans, and it may nip at corals on occasion. Keep one per tank. A 135-gallon tank will be needed to house an adult.
(Monacanthus ciliatus). 7.9 inches. This is a voracious feeder in captivity and will do well in tanks as small as 75 gallons. It will not behave aggressively toward unlike species, but may spar with close relatives or conspecifics. It can be housed in a reef tank (main components of the diet include algae, sea grass and tiny crustaceans).
(Monacanthus tuckeri). 3.9 inches. One of the best aquarium filefishes, this fish remains small and acclimates readily to the home aquarium. It is one of the better-suited species for the reef tank, as it feeds most on small planktonic crustaceans. You can keep more than one M. tuckeri in a larger tank (180 gallons or more). A 55-gallon tank will adequately house an adult of this species. In the wild, it often associates with gorgonians.
(Oxymonacanthus longirostris). 3.5 inches. This attractive species should be avoided by aquarists, as it rarely if ever survives long in captivity. It has a specialized diet that consists almost entirely of Acropora coral polyps. Some people have kept them in small-polyped stony coral aquariums, where they have had a constant supply of polyps to dine on; but it is best to leave these animals on the reef and let them thrive there. In the wild, they often occur in pairs.
(Paraluteres prionurus). 3.9 inches. This fascinating species looks just like the poison-laden saddled toby (Canthigaster valentine). This is a case of Batesian mimicry – that is, a harmless species mimicking a harmful one. Unless you know what to look for, it can be easy to confuse the two similar species (the filefish has two dorsal fins, while the toby has one). It is a great aquarium fish. It can be kept in a reef tank, and if well-fed, it usually does not damage corals. That said, there is always some degree of risk when adding a filefish to a venue with cnidarians. A 30- to 55-gallon tank will adequately house an adult of this species.
(Pervagor janthinosoma). 5.5 inches. These are very shy fish that will spend most of their time peering from a reef crevice when the aquarist is near the tank. With time, they will acclimate to their keeper and move into the open when you a present. However, they will settle in more readily if housed in a tank placed in a low traffic area of the home or office. The members of this genus are known stony coral predators. Thus, adding them to a reef tank is not without risk. A tank of 55-gallons will house a single adult.
(Pervagor melanocephalus). 3.9 inches. Like others in the genus, this species can be reclusive when first added to its aquarium home. This will be accentuated if it is harassed by aquarium neighbors. It does not tend to be as shy as P. janthinosoma. It is a potential coral polyp-nipper. Keep one per tank, unless you can acquire a heterosexual pair. An adult is best kept in a tank of 55-gallons or more.
(Pervagor spilosoma). 7.1 inches. This Hawaiian beauty is one of the most common species in the aquarium trade. It tends to be hardy and readily acclimates to captivity (while it tends to be less shy than others in the genus, provide it with plenty of suitable hiding places). Stony coral polyps are an important component of its natural diet, but it readily accepts and thrives on aquarium fish foods. Because of its bill of fare, it is not usually welcome in the reef tank. Keep one per aquarium, unless you can acquire a male-female pair. Males will quarrel and may damage each other. Adults are best housed in tanks of 75-gallons or larger.