The Red Dottyback is a beautiful and hardy fish, with serious anger issues, whichcan be dealt with by a wise aquarist.

The Red Dottyback can actually range in color from a golden yellow to orange to red then to black, depending on their location. The lighter variety that are male, are more spectacular because when courting and spawning their thin horizontal lines become bright blue and more visible. Females have a red oval or circular red color in the middle of their body that runs from in front to just behind the anal fin and from the belly to the upper back, but not to the top of their back. The body is elongated and their tail fin is rounded. The color of the fins are typically the main color of the body. They can reach 7.8†(20 cm) and are mature around 5.8†(14.9 cm). It is unknown how long they live, however other dottybacks have lived at least 10 years in captivity.

All dottybacks share a few traits, which are scales on their heads, their pear shaped black pupil and continuous dorsal fin to name a few. In the wild, dottybacks are quite fearful, however this quickly changes in captive environments. Dottybacks are born female and change to male as needed, similar to wrasses. They will ambush prey, sitting and waiting for dinner to come to them. If nothing comes around, after 20 to 30 seconds, they will move onto another spot. In the wild, they are low on the food chain, which explains why approaching them is very difficult. In captivity, it is quite different!

This fish is great for any level of aquarist and it is very hardy. Live rock with lots of places to hide will keep them happy. The larger the tank the better. Just throw in some sand, any light, live rock, a few pumps and a skimmer and you are ready to go!

The Red Dottyback is one of the fiercest fish in the marine hobby. They cannot be trusted with inverts in a reef, although will not bother corals. Do not house in a community fish only tank either because they will kill any and all peaceful and small fish. The only fish they are compatible with are: larger eels, large groupers, large hawkfish, large angelfish, snappers, squirrelfish, and triggerfish. If kept as a male and female, buy 2 juveniles and let them decide, but add them at the same time and add plexiglass between them until they are acquainted.

These fish require an aquarium that is at least 50 gallons and as the only fish in this size tank. A male and female pair will need at least 135 gallons. They will also need a larger tank to keep with the above mentioned tank mates. Typical filtration, skimmer, good water movement and timely water changes are all this fish needs!

For more Information on keeping this fish see:
Guide to a Happy, Healthy Marine Aquarium

Dampiera Grouper, (wild) Spottysail Dottyback, Labracinus cyclophthalmus

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In the wild

This video shows the Dampeira Grouper or Spottysail Dottyback in the wild. They are very shy and stay near rock work or coral. These dottybacks are easy to care for and are 8.5″ of angry fish! Do not feed freshwater fish, as these have too much fat. If keeping with other fish, avoid passive or similar size since they have no problem smashing larger tank mates into bite sized pieces They will eat smaller fish and ornamental crustaceans and as adults tend to terrorize entire tanks, so keep them with large squirrelfish, snappers, groupers, large angelfish, large hawkfish and triggerfish. House in a tank that is at least 30 gallons if they are the only fish.

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Pseudochromidae
  • Genus: Labracinus
  • Species: cyclophthalmus
Red Dottyback – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 50 gal (189 L)
  • Size of fish – inches: 7.8 inches (19.81 cm)
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 79.0° F (22.2 to 26.1&deg C)
  • Range ph: 8.0-8.4
  • Diet Type: Carnivore
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Red Dottyback, Labracinus cyclophthalmus was first described by Muller & Troschel in 1849. Their newer and now accepted common names are: Darkstriped Dottyback, Emperor Devil, Fire-Tail Devil, Firetail Dottyback, Giant Dottyback, Spottysail Dottyback and Red Dottyback. These names are all indicative of their coloring and personality. Why isn’t the name Dampier Grouper or Dampier in that list? Well, at one time, they carried various genus names such as Dampieria, Cichlops and Julis. Their species names varied so wildly but the old genus name Dampieria give us a clue as to why that was one of the old names. Typically that is no longer used or accepted, except by older hobbyists that haven’t moved on yet.
Red Dottybacks are found in the western Pacific thorough the Indo-Malayan Archipelago, then from southern Japan and south to the Northwest Shelf of Australia and east to New Ireland, Papua New Guinea. The Red Dottyback can be found in tide pools on outer reefs and coastal reefs. They can also be found in channels that are found on the reef flat, reef crest and reef face. These fish prefer areas with tidal currents and water surges where they live under ledges, as well as between dead coral and guard an area that is 97 by 441 feet (9 to 41 m squared). They are found between 6.5 to 65.5 feet (2 – 20 m), although they are normally found in the range of 33 and 49 feet (10 – 15 m). Red Dottybacks feed on small fish like gobies, peanut worms, snails and crabs, but also enjoy shrimp, mantis shrimp, mysis, chitons, isopods, small urchins, polychaete worm and serpent stars. They are found in small groups of males and females, spread out over a large area.

They are not on the IUCN Red List for endangered species, or Not Evaluated

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


Dottybacks all have pear shaped pupils, scales on their head, a continuous dorsal fin and a separated lateral line. The Red Dottyback is a long and slender fish, slightly deeper than smaller dottybacks and have scaly sheaths on the dorsal and anal fins. In the mouth, are large teeth in a “vvv†or chevron pattern and they have a rounded tail fin and tubed scales coming out of the gill opening. Their colors can range from yellow to orange then from red to black, depending age and sex and location. The ones in Indonesia and Japan seem to develop a black head and back with a more orange to red body. The fish in the Philippines have a dark face, greenish back and lighter body with lines running through. Some are yellow with bright blue lines. Males have elongated spots on their dorsal fin and most have a dark head and bright blue lines on the body. Females have a large red spot that is right in the middle of the body, that runs from the area in front of then after the anal fin. The red spot has a loose oval look to it and is more dramatic during breeding. When alarmed, they develop dark vertical bars. The Red Dottyback can grow to 7.8†(23.5 cm) and are mature at 5.8†(14.9 cm). It is unknown how long they live, although other dottybacks have been known to live 10 or more years in captivity.

  • Size of fish – inches: 7.8 inches (19.81 cm) – They reach maturity around 5.8†(14.9 cm)

  • Lifespan: 10 years – Similar to other dottybacks, may live at least 10 years in captivity

Fish Keeping Difficulty

These fish are very hardy and rarely get sick. They do best in a tank with a lot of bolt holes and crevices for them to hide in, similar to their natural surroundings. Feed them a varied diet to help keep their color bright. While these fish are durable, they still need to have regular water changes to stay free of disease. Due to their ability to easily breed in captivity, a male and female pair can be kept in a tank that is at least 135 gallons. Add 2 small juveniles and put in a plexiglass divider with holes drilled to allow water to flow through until one of them takes the female roll and the dominant one becomes male. Feed a varied diet to help them keep their colors bright.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner

Foods and Feeding

This carnivore will eat pretty much anything you throw in the tank, including “pinkies†or newborn mice, once they are adults. That should not be a common occurrence, and they should be typically fed a variety of foods to help them keep their colors vibrant. Feed them frozen/thawed prepared foods, chopped shrimp, mussels, scallops, fish flesh and other marine flesh as well as live or frozen/thawed brine shrimp. You can also feed them flake or pellet. Feed 2 to 4 times a week.

  • Diet Type: Carnivore
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet – To condition them to breed
  • Meaty Food: All of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Weekly – Feed only 2 to 4 times per week.

Aquarium Care

Red Dottback are hardy and fairly easy to keep. They do well when provided good water conditions and a well maintained tank. Although they are tolerant of less than perfect water quality, prolonged poor water quality will result in illness and disease with any saltwater fish. Regular water changes done bi-weekly will also help replace the trace elements that the fish and corals use up. Guidelines for water changes with different types and sizes of aquariums are:

  • Fish only tanks:
    • Medium sized up to 90 gallons, perform 20% to 30% monthly depending on bioload.
    • Large Tanks 100 gallons and over, once water is aged and stable can be changed 20% to 30% every 6 weeks depending on bioload.
  • Reef tanks:
    • Medium sized up to 90 gallons, perform 15% bi-weekly.
    • Large Tanks 100 gallons and over, once water is aged and stable can be changed 10% bi-weekly to 20% monthly, 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.

  • Water Changes: Bi-weekly

Aquarium Setup

Dottybacks are known to jump out of a tank when suddenly startled, such as when a light abruptly turns on or off. In this case, a a lid would be advisable or have a light that gradually turns on and off. Provide a tank that is at least 50 gallons. If you do want to keep them as a male and female pair, the tank should be 135 gallons. To keep with other fish, then the tank should match the needs of the other fish on the list, which is usually much more than 50 gallons. Smaller tanks make them much more aggressive, so the larger the tank the better they will be. Sand is a good idea because they like to burrow. Throw in a handful of crushed coral and small rubble pieces for them to use. Provide them with lots of live rock that have plenty of places to hide. Any water movement and light are fine and they are fine with typical seawater parameters with temperature ranging between 72 to 79ËšF (22 to 26ËšC).

  • Minimum Tank Size: 50 gal (189 L) – 135 gallons for a male and female.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Live Rock Requirement: Typical Plus Hiding Places
  • Substrate Type: Mix – Sand + Coral – Mostly sand with a little crushed coral so they can burrow.
  • Lighting Needs: Any
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 79.0° F (22.2 to 26.1&deg C)
  • Breeding Temperature: – Unknown
  • Specific gravity: 1.023-1.025 SG
  • Range ph: 8.0-8.4
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Any
  • Water Region: Bottom

Social Behaviors

Only keep as a male and female pair in a tank that is at least 135 gallons or alone in a 50 gallon tank. Do not keep in groups.
Red Dottybacks should not be kept with other dottybacks unless they are also aggressive and are similar in size. If the tank is hundreds of gallons and there are lots of bolt holes and places to hide, this will help with the aggression. They should only be housed with larger hawkfish, snappers, nasty damsels (Dascyllus, Neoglyphidodon, Plectroglyphidodon, Premnas, andStegastes), large angelfish (Holacanthus, Pomacanthus), Surgeonfish, Rabbitfish, triggerfish and puffers (Arothron). Add your dottyback to the tank after the less aggressive fish have acclimated, so pretty much last. They will eat small fish that fit into their mouths and have been known to break a fish into smaller pieces by banging it on the rock! That being said, do not house with peaceful fish or smaller fish. Avoid wrasses, since in the wild they eat dottyback eggs, so they are hard wired to go after wrasses.

They will not bother corals and are okay for a predatorial reef aquarium. Some say they eat too many copepods and the algae gets out of control. If that is the case then buy a surgeonfish or rabbitfish.

Red Dottybacks will eat crustaceans, bristle worms, Fireworms (Hermodice carunculata), and amphipods and copepods. Shrimp will also be eaten. So pretty much most inverts are on the menu.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Sometimes – Only as male and female pair
    • Peaceful fish (gobies, dartfish, assessors, fairy wrasses): Threat
    • Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Threat
    • Monitor – Only aggressive dottybacks of similar size and aggressive damsels like the domino. No wrasses.
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (tangs, large angels, large wrasses): Monitor – No wrasses
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (lionfish, groupers, soapfish): Monitor – Do not house with soapfish, boxfish or cowfish. Make sure the other fish cannot swallow them whole.
    • Threat
    • 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: Threat
    • Feather Dusters, Bristle Worms, Flatworms: Threat
    • Clams, Scallops, Oysters: Threat
    • Copepods, Amphipods, Mini Brittle Stars: Threat

Sex: Sexual differences

Born female and will change to male as needed. Females have a red area that is oval to round and located in the middle of the body over the anal fin.

Breeding / Reproduction

Red Dottybacks are born female and change to male as needed. It is possibly they may be able to change back. Courtship begins when a female develops a swollen abdomen, indicating she is ready to lay eggs. The male will try to lure her into his home, which is in a crevice, burrow or hole in the reef. He starts by using an undulating swimming method that is called a leading display. The male will chase the female just a little, then will display to her more and this process can take a few hours before she is ready to enter his nest site. Once in his hole, crevice or burrow, another hour can pass before she actually lays the eggs. Red Dottybacks spawn every 3 weeks. The female lays a mass of eggs called an egg ball, which is held together in this round shape by thin, sticky threads. Within the sphere of eggs, there are channels that run in-between them, which allows water to move through and keep them oxygenated. The egg ball can be .8 to 1.4†(2 – 3.5 cm) around. with 500 to 1,000 eggs measuring to 1.3 mm each. After she lays the egg mass, the male fertilizes them externally. The male will then chase the female out of his lair and tends to the eggs by fanning them as they roll around in the nest area. He will also defend his egg ball, keeping them safe from predators like wrasses and other egg eaters.

Hatching starts around the forth or fifth day during the night hours, depending on water temperature. Larvae are 1/10th to 1/6th of an inch (2.5 – 4 mm) and the larvae spend the night of hatching eating the yolk in their belly. They all begin to feed in the morning.

Dottybacks are known to breed in captivity. If you want to do this with your Red Dottyback, just purchase 2 juveniles and one will turn male and one will stay female. Provide a divider in a 135 gallon tank so they cannot injure each other as they work out who will play mom and who will play dad. Once one of them stays smaller and accepts being a female and the larger one becomes male, you are ready to go. In about 4 months they are sexually mature with good feedings. Feed them chopped fresh seafoods (raw), krill, mysis and other high quality foods. Females need to be fed heavily to condition them to lay eggs and the health of the eggs are directly related to the health of the female. Leave the eggs with the male or separate, your choice. If leaving them with the male, as they hatch, use a light to attract them and net them out. If they are separated from the male, put them in a small container in the rearing tank and agitate the egg ball with an air stone. They will hatch in about 3 days and can be fed a variety of plankton and commercially available food about 10 to 15 times a day. They grow quickly with clean water and enough space. Juveniles will attack each other around 40 days after they hatch. Thin the group out into smaller groups with lots of hideouts in larger tanks at a rate of 2†of fish per 3/4 gallon (5 cm per 2.8 liters) or 20 fish per 15 gallons. By 4 months, they will be 1.2†(over 3 cm).

  • Ease of Breeding: Easy

Fish Diseases

Dottybacks are durable fish and rarely contract most aquarium diseases. They can however, contract Velvet (Amyloodinium ocellatrum), Crypt or saltwater Ich (Cryptocaryon irritants), and Uronema marinum. They do fine with any treatments that are out there, even copper based treatments. On a rare occasion a dotty back can develop head and lateral line erosion.


Red Dottybacks are sometimes available and run about $30.00 to $40.00 USD for a small juvenile that is 1.5 to 5.5†long. (May, 2015)


Animal-World References – Marine Fish