History is replete with tales of individuals seeking something unobtainable. Jason and the Argonauts sought the Golden Fleece. Ponce de Leon sought the fountain of youth. And I sought to obtain the Orchid Dottyback (Pseudochromis fridmani). I realize that most hobbyists have one fish that they must have, but I doubt that many have contacted over fifty stores over the course of five years to try to obtain it. Why would someone go to this much trouble just to get a pygmy basslet (Pseudochromidea) that for all intents and purposes resembles the common magenta dottyback (Pseudochromis porphyreus)?
There are many reasons. First of all, the Orchid dottyback is exceedingly rare in the aquarium trade. It was only discovered in 1968, despite the fact that it lives in relatively shallow water on reef slopes from one to thirty meters deep. Secondly if viewed closely it is easy to see that the coloration, while resembling that of the magenta dottyback, differs markedly. Unlike the monochromatic P. porphyreus that has the same pale purple throughout, the Orchid dottyback is deep violet with each scale trimmed in blue. This purple is so intense that it actually seems to hurt your eyes under certain lighting conditions, and this color does not fade as the fish gets larger. In addition, the Orchid dottyback has a dark purple bar that extends from the snout through the eye.
However, the most endearing quality about these fish is that, unlike other Pseudochromids, the Orchid dottyback does not share the pugnacious disposition that most others possess. On the reef these basslets often travel in groups, and I have found that my three get along exceptionally well together. While they occasionally chase each other, there have been no torn fins or major fights to date. These basslets get along with all of their other tankmates as well, including a pair of Springer's dottyback (P. springeri). These are also from the Red Sea and are sometimes found on the reef with the Orchid dottyback. However, I probably would not trust the fridmani with like-bodied fish, such as firefish or small- bodied wrasses. I have seen them harass such fish in my tank.
Unlike most pygmy basslets, the Orchid is one species that is easy to sex. The main difference is in the shape of the tail. In the female the tail is perfectly round. In males the tail arches and meets at a sharp point. This gender difference appears to develop early. When I obtained my trio the fish were only 1" to 1¼" long and the difference in tail shape was readily apparent. The fish have now grown to 2 ½" in length, on their way to an adult length of 4" and the tail shape has not changed. These basslets are cousins to the much larger groupers, which change sex as they get larger, and some may eventually change sex later on.
As with most Pseudochromids, the Orchid thrives in the reef tank, constantly picking copepods and worms from the rocks. They are not at all skittish and spend most of their time at the front of the tank. My fish eat virtually any kind of food offered them, including flake. Because by nature they are carnivores I try to feed them a preponderance of meaty foods including chopped shrimp, squid, urchin, and fish.
My description of this beautiful fish probably does not do it justice. However, if you are fortunate enough to encounter an Orchid dottyback in your dealer's tank, you will realize that you have the rare opportunity to acquire a fish that is not only stunning but also quite docile. Despite its high price tag, it is more than worth the cost.
Reproduction kindly granted by Aquarium Systems, publishers of SeaScope Magazine.