Feeding Your Harlequin Filefish


A friend from a local aquarium club has recently had quite a bit of success with a pair of Harlequin Filefish, and he wanted to share his adventure. The bonded pair was purchased from LiveAquaria, one of our favorite online livestock retailers. The usually finicky eaters were then coaxed into taking prepared foods. This was achieved by adding Instant Ocean gel food to a dead stem of a green Slimer Acropora coral skeleton. Since these fish naturally eat coral polyps, they seem to take to the prepared food a bit more easily when it is covering a natural food source. This is a technique that I would suggest for finicky tangs as well. I would often tell people who purchased tangs that refused to eat, to attach a piece of algae to the rock work with a rubber band. The grazing fish would hopefully come across the algae in its daily activities and learn to eat it regularly.

Harlequin Filefish Eating Instand Ocean Gel Food

Harlequin Filefish Eating Instand Ocean Gel Food

The beautiful Harlequin filefish are very difficult to care for. They primarily feed on Acropora polyps, but with proper attention and trial and error, they may eventually take prepared foods. Obviously this filefish isn’t reef safe, but it seems that SPS keepers are the primary owners of these fish. This may be for the obvious reason that you have to have a steady supply of food for the filefish, but it also might be because the “colored stick” keepers want a challenge or simply think the fish is very unique.

Case in point, Eric Borneman, a very well known author and a good friend of mine, fell in love with the Harlequin Filefish when he gave an identification workshop at a fish store where I was working. Eric let the filefish loose in one of his reef tanks and watched in amazement at this fish’s behavior. He told me the fish seemed to prefer one or two colonies and that it wasn’t a voracious eater. The corals were obviously not too pleased with the new resident, but there didn’t seem to be any tissue loss or death. Additionally, the filefish would take up residence in the branches of the larger Acro colonies at night, further adding to the fish’s intrigue.


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  • Matt Pedersen

    Hey Brandon, I first wrote about this technique in 2009 (CORAL, March/April) but more interestingly is my understanding that all the Harelquin Filefish sold out of the Diver's Den (only place I've seen O. longirostris being offered by LiveAquaria.com) are already well trained onto prepared foods. As such, what your friend did, while mimicking the technique I presented for training recalcitrant, skinny WC files, may have been largely unnecessary. The single male I purchased from the Diver's Den at their open house earlier this month was eating frozen Hikari Mysis, Flake Food, Brine Shrimp, and Nutramar Ova, all by the next morning. Truthfully, the staff @ LiveAquaria seem to be taking the hardest part and getting it done for you…makes the fish a heck of a lot easier. I'll be speaking about this fish @ MACNA in less than a week, Saturday, 10 AM 😉 I'd invite anyone interested in this species to attend.

    • AquaNerd

      hey matt, i unfortunately didn't get to read that article, but i'm glad it's a method that's circulating throughout the hobby. i worked for a local fish store back in 2008 and we had a lot of people complaining about finicky fish, especially tangs. i suggested they rubber band some seaweed to a rock to get a fish to eat prepared foods while they go about their normal grazing activity. it obviously worked better for some individuals than others. but i thought the above technique used for the filefish above was very ingenious. i probably wouldn't have even thought about it to be honest. and it wouldn't really work with many other foods except the gel foods. but when my friend submitted this picture, i just had to write about it. as for liveaquaria…i couldn't agree more. i know they do a great job with every fish that comes into their possession.

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