Although quite shy as a juvenile, the Spotted Soapfish will soon recognize who feeds it and will become quite tame!

The Spotted Soapfish is grayish overall, with tiny white spots all over the body and 5 solid black “V” shaped saddles on the back. The saddles start over the eyes and end at the base of the tail fin.  They have clear rounded fins, which includes 2 dorsal fins and they have small sharp spines in the jaw and ear area.   They can be brown on the bottom half of the fish.  Juveniles have more vivid browns, yellows, whites and blacks in their body.  Their 6 to 7 dark saddles are longer and wider, alternating with yellow sections that have small white spots. These sections can form an hourglass shape near the head and then near the tail.  The belly is brown with larger circles formed by larger white spots.  These larger circles also have small white dots in the middle.  Both juvenile and adult have an appendage on their lower lip.  These attractive fish are considered expert only and can grow to 13.7” (35 cm).  

Spotted Soapfish are similar in appearance to the Ocellated Soapfish (P. ocellata), however the Ocellated Soapfish only grows to 9” (23 cm).  If the fish is not an adult, there are color differences.  The Ocellated Soapfish is brown all over, with small white spots covering the entire body, including the 5 brown “V” shaped saddles on the back.  The middle of the fish has black blotches at the bottom of each saddle.  The Spotted Soapfish spend daylight hours in caves and crevices and hunts after dark.  They hunt with their nose pointed down and when they see prey, they turn their body’s sideways and swim in an exaggerated pattern.  This fish will also emit a poison when threatened that makes them taste very bitter to their attacker.

This fish is marked as “expert only” due to their ability to take out an entire tank if they are frightened by other fish, illness, or the aquarist.  However, Spotted Soapfish are very hardy otherwise.  Leaving juveniles alone when first introduced is a good way to help them adjust.  Provide them with many places to hide and do not house them with aggressive fish that may try to attack them.  As they grow they will become more tame.  Be sure to only capture your Spotted Soapfish with a container, not a net.  They will become more stressed when captured with a net as they become entangled due to the spines by their jaw and ear area.  If any other fish in the tank are breathing heavily, remove them to another tank, since your Spotted Soapfish may have emitted the grammistin toxin.  This toxin is also a skin irritant, so never handle your fish with bare hands.   

Soapfish get along with all other fish, except other soapfish and aggressive fish.  Only one per tank.  They will eat any fish that is as long as they are, to the point of not even being able to swallow the fish completely!   It is quite interesting to see your Spotted Soapfish swimming around the tank with the head or tail of their prey sticking out, until it is fully digested!  I should say it is interesting, unless it is a fish you DIDN’T want him to eat!  Other fish should not be overly aggressive like the aggressive Clown Triggerfish, since it may “trigger” the “soap up” mechanism.  Spotted Soapfish can eat tobies, even though the tobies are poisonous.  Add to the tank as the first resident and allow your Spotted Soapfish to adjust fully before adding other compatible fish.

Newer opinions put the minimum aquarium size at 125 gallons (473 liters), with a temperature between 72˚ and 81˚F (22 to 27˚C).  There should be quite a bit of live rock, formed into caves and crevices for the Spotted Soapfish to hide in during the day.  Some specimens may need live foods like feeder fish and glass shrimp etc., but are easily trained to eat bite-sized pieces of saltwater originated raw fish or shrimp and may eventually eat prepared frozen/thawed foods.  They swim at the lower levels of the tank and stay under ledges during the day.  Any light is acceptable and an area of stronger water movement is appreciated to mimic their habitat.     

Scientific Classification


Clown Grouper – Quick Aquarium Care

Aquarist Experience Level:Expert
Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
Minimum Tank Size:75 gal (284 L)
Size of fish – inches: 13.7 inches (34.80 cm)
Temperature: 72.0 to 81.0° F (22.2 to 27.2&deg C)
Range ph:8.1-8.4
Diet Type:Carnivore
clown grouper or Spotted soapfish
Image Credit: zaferkizilkaya, Shutterstock

Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Spotted Soapfish, Pogonoperca punctata, was described by Valenciennes in 1830. The original scientific name was Grammistes punctata, however they now have their own genus.  The common names are Leaflip Soapfish, Leaflip Grouper, Clown Grouper, Spotted Soapfish, Snowflake Soapfish,, Bearded Soapfish, and Soapfish.  Several of these names, such as Leaflip Soapfish, Clown Grouper, and Snowflake Soapfish have been adopted by retail companies, and are more commonly recognized, although, the name Spotted Soapfish seems to transcend both retailers and the scientific common names.  The names of the Spotted Soapfish all are all descriptive of the pattern or physical characteristics.   

Distribution – Habitat:

Spotted Soapfish are found in the Indo-Pacific, in southern Natal, South Africa and from the Comoros Islands to the Line, Marquesan and Society Islands, then northward to the southern part of Japan and south to New Caledonia.  They like to inhabit areas where there are large coral heads on slopes that receive moderate currents.  During the day they tend to hide in caves and under ledges over sandy substrate at depths of 49 to 492 feet (15 to 150 m).  Juveniles are found in shallow lagoons and protected bays in waters less than 65 feet (20 m).  This fish, as a juvenile or adult, prefers crustaceans and small fish.

It is unknown whether they are found singly or as pairs in the wild, although they can only be kept singly in aquariums.  They may be similar to groupers in this aspect.  They have not been evaluated on the IUCN Red List for Endangered Species.

Similar Species:

Ocellated Soapfish (Pogonoperca ocellata) – This fish only grows to 9” to the Spotted Soapfish’s 13.7.”  The Ocellated Soapfish coloring is slightly different, having an all over brown color with small white spots.  These small white spots are also present on their dark brown “V” shaped saddles on the back as well.  One more specific difference are the black blotches at the bottom of each of the dark brown saddles on their back.

  • Scientific Name: Pogonoperca punctata
  • Social Grouping: Solitary
  • IUCN Red List: NE – Not Evaluated or not listed


The Spotted Soapfish is an elongated, deep bodied shape with rounded fins that are all clear.  The adult’s body is gray, but can be gray on top and brown on the bottom, with tiny white spots all over.  There are 5 solid black “V” shaped saddles, with one over the eyes, one right before the front dorsal fin, one at the middle of the first dorsal fin, one under the second dorsal fin and one near the base of the tail fin.  The Spotted Soapfish also has two dorsal fins.

Juveniles, have an interesting and attractive pattern!  Their upper back alternates between 7 solid black saddles, varying in size, trimmed in white, with 5 to 6 yellow sections with white dots inside.  The first and last yellow sections form hour glass shapes.  The belly is brown with slightly larger white spots forming larger circles, and those circles also have smaller white spots.  Both the adult and the juvenile have an appendage on the bottom lip.  This fish grows to 13.7” (35 cm) and it is possible, like groupers, they can live up to 37 years.

  • Size of fish – inches: 13.7 inches (34.80 cm) – 13.7” (35 cm)
  • Lifespan: – Unknown, but may be similar to groupers, which live up to 37 years.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

This fish is an oxymoron when it comes to their hardiness and how they are listed as best house by “expert” fish keepers!  Yes, they are relatively hardy, though transport and inappropriate tank mates can cause death by poisoning.  Experts tend to be more rigid, making this a more suitable choice for this level, however, if one is willing to go the distance, success may be had!  Although older literature shows 75 gallons as the minimum, the newer thinking on the matter sets minimum tank size at 125 gallons.  This is not out of the question due to the nature of the fish, and risk of “soap up.”  Having a very good filtration system and Purigan or Polyfilters handy would be helpful.  Do not quarantine this fish, it is just too stressful and QT tanks are just too small to handle any toxins emitted by the fish.  Simply do a pH and temperature adjusted freshwater dip, then add as the FIRST FISH to your main display.  Any toxins emitted from stress should end up diluted and handled by 125 gallons until your Spotted Soapfish adjusts.  Once the fish is fully adapted, recognizes you as it’s food source, and becomes friendly, start to add other tank mates.  Adding this fish after other fish, may possibly end up in more stress and emitting of the grammistin poison.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy – Once acclimated, they are very hardy, as long as they do not poison themselves.
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Expert – This is due to the possibility of tank poisoning. Tank mates and habits must be followed to the “T” to try to prevent this.
Spotted soapfish or clown grouper
Image Credit: Dmitry Rukhlenko, Shutterstock

Foods and Feeding

The Spotted Soapfish is a carnivore.  They may need live feeder fish or feeder shrimp to induce a feeding response.  Gladly, after a short time, they can be trained to eat small bits of fish or crustacean flesh that comes from saltwater sources.  These items can be obtained at the grocery store to help cut the expense of feeding this very hungry fish.  Some can be trained to eat prepared frozen/thawed foods and possibly large presoaked pellets (to expel all the air) on occasion.  Avoid silversides, since they do not have the nutritional value needed by your Spotted Soapfish.  While a juvenile will benefit with daily feedings, adults only need to be fed 2 to 4 times a week.  Do not be alarmed by their large distended belly, this is normal after eating a large meal!

  • Diet Type: Carnivore
  • Flake Food: No – Not satisfying enough for adults.
  • Tablet / Pellet: Occasionally – Large pellets for carnivores, specifically Spectrum.
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet – Small black mollies, small damsels and live shrimp to induce feeding response.
  • Meaty Food: All of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Daily – Daily as a juvenile. Feed 2 to 4 times a week as an adult.

Aquarium Care

Reef tanks

  • Large Tanks 100 gallons and over, once water is aged and stable can be changed 10% bi-weekly to 20% monthly, depending on bioload.

Fish only tanks:

  • Large Tanks 100 gallons and over, once water is aged and stable can be changed 20% to 30% every 6 weeks depending on bioload.

For more information on maintaining a saltwater aquarium see: Saltwater Aquarium Basics: Maintenance. A reef tank will require specialized filtration and lighting equipment. Learn more about reef keeping see: Mini Reef Aquarium Basics.

  • Water Changes: Bi-weekly – Weekly changes may be done the first month you own the fish in case they become stressed from their new environment.

Aquarium Setup

Provide a minimum tank size of 125 gallons with good filtration.  Do not put in a nano tank, even when small, and do not quarantine.  They need quite a few places to hide, so form live rock into caves and crevices that they can hide in during the day and use sand as substrate to mimic their habitat.  The less stress factors the better!  The temperature should be between 72 and 81˚F, with normal ocean salinity and pH between 8.1 and 8.4.  Although light is irrelevant since they hide during the day, a dimmer aquarium may be better than a bright reef.  Provide strong water movement in at least one area, particularly their preferred “spot” which helps to mimic their environment and will help with filtration.  House alone in a community tank that does not have overly aggressive fish, or fish it can swallow whole.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 75 gal (284 L) – 75 gallons, however 125 gallons (473 liters) would be better.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No – Do not even quarantine them.
  • Live Rock Requirement: Typical Plus Hiding Places – Form multiple caves, ledges and crevices for them to hide in during the day.
  • Substrate Type: Sand – This is in keeping with their natural habitat which will help with stress levels.
  • Lighting Needs: Any
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 81.0° F (22.2 to 27.2&deg C) – 72˚ F (22˚ C) 81˚ F (27˚ C)
  • Breeding Temperature: – Unknown
  • Specific gravity: 1.023-1.025 SG
  • Range ph: 8.1-8.4
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Strong – They inhabit areas with strong water movement, plus this helps with filtration. Provide at least one area with stronger movement.
  • Water Region: Bottom

Social Behaviors

Essentially, the Spotted Soapfish is peaceful to other fish, well except those it can swallow whole!  Due to that fact, they are often listed as aggressive, which isn’t entirely accurate.  So I think semi-aggressive is more accurate since they do pose a threat to fish that are their size or smaller.  They will honestly not even pay attention to any fish that is too big to swallow!  House as the only soapfish in the tank.  Even a male and female pair would not be a good idea.  Not enough is known in this area to know if it is possible in captivity or even how to tell the difference!

The Spotted Soapfish can be housed with any larger peaceful or semi-aggressive fish.  You will have to watch to see how other large fish react to your soapfish.  If you add a Triggerfish that is more aggressive, such as a Clown Triggerfish and it starts to pick on your Spotted Soapfish, very bad things will happen!  Any fish you add after your Spotted Soapfish is adjusted and happy needs to be monitored.   You will be safe with peaceful groupers who are not overly territorial.  Tangs, large angelfish, pufferfish, semi-aggressive triggerfish, semi-aggressive eels and other large fish will be good companions.

These fish will not bother corals.  They are what you consider an “aggressive reef” fish.

Inverts are okay except for crustaceans, such as shrimp and crabs, which are part of their diet.  Starfish are not bothered unless they are very small.  Chocolate Chip Starfish, for example, will do fine with your Soapfish.

  • Venomous: Yes – May release toxin into tank water if stressed, sick or if it dies.
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive – Peaceful to other fish larger than they are.
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: No
    • Peaceful fish (gobies, dartfish, assessors, fairy wrasses): – As adults they can swallow any fish under 14” whole!
    • Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Threat – As adults they can swallow any fish under 14” whole!
    • Threat – As adults they can swallow any fish under 14” whole!
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (tangs, large angels, large wrasses): Safe – Only fish over 14”
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (lionfish, groupers, soapfish): Safe – Watch for aggression toward the Soapfish and remove promptly.
    • Threat – Can swallow even noxious fish like mandarins whole!
    • Anemones: Safe
    • Mushroom Anemones – Corallimorphs: Safe
    • LPS corals: Safe
    • SPS corals: Safe
    • Gorgonians, Sea Fans: Safe
    • Leather Corals: Safe
    • Soft Corals (xenias, tree corals): Safe
    • Star Polyps, Organ Pipe Coral: Safe
    • Zoanthids – Button Polyps, Sea Mats: Safe
    • Sponges, Tunicates: Safe
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat
    • Starfish: Safe
    • Feather Dusters, Bristle Worms, Flatworms: Safe
    • Clams, Scallops, Oysters: Safe
    • Copepods, Amphipods, Mini Brittle Stars: Safe

Sexual differences


Breeding / Reproduction


  • Ease of Breeding: Unknown

Fish Diseases

These fish are hardy, but the toxins they emit, typically will be what kills them, even on the way home from the fish store.  Ask the fish store not to feed the fish for at least 2 days before transport for best results.  These fish do not ship or transport well, unless there is a good amount of water and oxygen.  If your transport of this fish from the fish store to your home results in an apparently almost dead fish, who obviously has released it’s own toxin don’t give up!  Do as one aquarist did and hold the fish (wear gloves), in front of the power head in the main tank to help oxygenate and clean out the toxins it expelled in the travel bag.  Never put travel bag water into the tank.  This aquarist took a few hours to see results!   His soapfish survived the ordeal, although it almost ended up in the toilet in the beginning! 

The line of thought is to skip quarantine due to the small water volume that is typically found in these types of tanks.  Soapfish should also be the first addition to your cycled main display to prevent the stress of being added into tanks with larger fish.  

Do not use copper treatments, only quinine medications for Protozoan treatment.  Use a freshwater dip with the pH and temperature matched to the aquarium water, and skip quarantine.


These fish are found on line and command a pretty penny!



Featured Image Credit: Pogonoperca punctata (Image Credit: Citron, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 International)