FIA is community supported website. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn More.

7 Most Popular Triggerfish: Species Overview & Care

Many hobbyists are drawn to saltwater fishkeeping because of a single particular fish that combines various properties – the two most common ones being that it should be stunning to look at and easy caring.

The Triggerfish combines both these properties! Their adventurous nature, stunning looks, and low care requirements make them a catch for fishkeepers.

They, also known as the Picasso Triggerfish, are aptly named after their unique patterns that resemble an abstract painting. Don’t let their stunning body fool you into thinking they’re easy-going– these guys will give everyone a tough time.

They reach a relatively massive size of around 10 inches, which easily dwarfs other saltwater fish such as the docile Orange Spotted Goby or the Gramma Basslets.

Most saltwater fish are either disease-prone, delicate, low feeders in captivity and release toxins that can wipe out your entire tank. The Triggerfish doesn’t come with any of these problems.

The best part is that Triggerfish have relatively easy care requirements that all beginners new to saltwater fish species will appreciate.

In this triggerfish care guide, we’ll give you a detailed how-to on what needs to be provided for these ‘monsters’ of the aquarium.

Species Overview

They belong to Balistidae and are closely related to a few other families such as puffers, filefish, and cowfish.

Most species in this family exclusively practice balistiform locomotion (using the anal and dorsal fin instead of the caudal fin. The caudal fin is sometimes used to boost speed underwater.

Put, They scarcely make use of their tail to swim, but instead, use their anal and dorsal fins to stay afloat underwater.

It creates a dramatic effect of a hovercraft suspended in thin air and is partly responsible for why hobbyists are so enamored by this fish.


They have a primarily compressed body, although some species have elongated bodies.

They have a non-protractile mouth with well-developed hard teeth designed to make short work of invertebrates with hard shells. Their eyes rotate independently, and their pelvic fins are fused into a single spine.

They have two dorsal fins. The first comprises three spines, which is where it gets its name.

The spine allows these fish to secure themselves into rock crevices and coral heads when attacked by predators. When they lock themselves in position, it is almost impossible to remove Triggerfish from their positions.

They are not your average saltwater fish species. They have razor-sharp teeth and are heavily armored to the point that few marine fish (outside giant predators like sharks) pose any threat to them. Their massive teeth mean they can kill and eat through anything you put in their way, living or non-living.

More importantly, the saltwater Triggerfish look like modern abstract paintings, something straight out of a canvas. They are breathtaking – figuratively and literally – with intricate patterns.


They exhibit obvious intelligence that observers will quickly notice. They have a particular way by which they go about their daily routine. They don’t swim around mindlessly.

You can almost sense that they’re ‘thinking’ like self-aware beings, continually evaluating their surroundings, looking for foods, observing their tanks.

They use their independently rotating eyes to gain a complete sensory view of the environment around them. The best part? They will recognize you eventually and change their behavior whenever you’re in their presence.

They will view you as their source of food and can be trained to eat right out of your hands – but watch out because their teeth are sharp and can easily bite the hand that feeds.

With that out of the way, they love to attack less aggressive species. More specifically, their hunting instincts prime them to go after invertebrates.

It’s interesting to watch them snap through the hard shells of invertebrates and devour them with great aggression. It is why they should not be kept with ornamental invertebrates and are best for fish-only aquariums.

They do not like each other very much and will view their kind as competition. It is why most fishkeepers do not keep more than one Picasso Triggerfish in a tank.

That being said, you can successfully keep multiple Triggerfish in a tank by introducing them when they’re still young. Of course, it necessitates checking up on fish now and then to see if bullying is going on.

Triggerfish Species You May Want to Keep

Pinktail Triggerfish (Melichthys Vidua)

They are not easy to keep in most saltwater fish tanks. They are difficult to feed when you first introduce them into their aquarium as they’re still getting adjusted to their new environment.

Once they realize that what you’re feeding them is appetizing, they will eventually start eating.

In the wild, Pink Tails have been observed to live in shallow waters outside the reef.

They are also found living in the underwater terrain with plenty of corals and rocks where they like to hide. Pink Tail Triggerfish need lots of swimming space and shelter to feel genuinely comfortable.

Crosshatch Triggerfish (Xanthichthys Mento)

Crosshatches are easy to keep and arguably, the least aggressive among other Triggerfish. It allows experienced fishkeepers to keep them with other tank mates. Do keep in mind that they will attack tank mates smaller or introduced into the aquarium after the Crosshatch has already created its territory.

If you plan on keeping more than one Crosshatch Triggerfish, do so by introducing one female with as many females as you want to. You can observe them change their sex from female to male, just like the clownfish.

Queen Triggerfish (Balistes Vetula)

Queen primarily live in the Caribbean Ocean and stay close to reefs for access to easy food. Some specimens are known for growing very large and require massive tanks of at least 500 gallons or more.

They are not safe for reef tanks and need a variety of meaty foods to stay adequately satiated.

Picasso Triggerfish (Rhinecanthus Aculeatus)

Picasso are voracious eaters and will feed on invertebrates such as crustaceans – or kill them for fun. This violent behavioral trait makes it essential to keep them away from corals.

For the most part, Picasso Triggerfish will stay away from anemones but will hurt everything else in their way. It may allow you to pair them up with clownfish.

Redtoothed Triggerfish (Odonus Niger)

Triggerfish Niger can actively change their colors to reflect their mood. It allows you to predict when they’re going to throw their temper tantrums.

In most cases, their body is entirely blue but starts to pale towards the back. They may also show off green shades.

The edges on their fins are a shade of deep blue. It is interesting to note that they can make grunting sounds when excited.

Humu-Humu Triggerfish (Rhinecanthus Rectangulus)

Humu-Humu triggerfish are relatively more popular than other Triggerfish. They are known by various names such as Painted Triggerfish, Reef, and Wedge-Tail.

They are very aggressive towards other tank mates. You can minimize the aggression by providing them with a large enough tank. Make sure to provide them with plenty of hiding spots for shelter to allow the fish to establish their territory.

Clown Triggerfish (Balistoides Conspicillum)

Clown triggerfish are arguably the most popular Triggerfish because of their stunning colors and adventurous persona.

They don’t have much in the way of care requirements. As a general rule, Caring for larger Clown Triggerfish are easier.

When you first introduce them into the tank, they will quickly adjust to their new environment and start eating food on the same day.

Juveniles, however, are not known for being so easy-going. Probably because they’re not given proper diets or that the tank doesn’t have ideal tank conditions. For the most part, Clown Triggerfish do exceptionally well in most marine tanks.

Tank Mates

As a rule of thumb, do not keep your Triggerfish with ornamental invertebrates (such as mollusks and crustaceans) and smaller fish that are not on the same aggressive spectrum. Even when they’re not attacking for food, They will knock down or terrorize corals simply out of spite.

Worse still is that most of them have incredibly unpredictable mood swings – one minute they’re seemingly peaceful, and another they’re on a rampage. These temperamental changes mean that you have to inspect the tank for signs of bullying regularly.

For the rest of your stock to survive, the tank mates have to match the aggression (and strength) levels of your Triggerfish. They should be able to put up a fight and hold their own, but not so strong as to kill and eat your Triggerfish.

You can try putting them with other aggressive species like the Lionfish or Eels, but we wouldn’t risk it. They will harass Lionfish and try to nip their spines off.

They will inflict different levels of physical trauma on slow-moving species such as Clownfish. Their tendency for destruction means that they should be kept singly in a tank unless you want other tank mates dying.

Keeping Triggerfish Alone – Ideal Setting

It is ultimately the most rewarding experience for fishkeepers. The only thing you have to deal with they won’t have to worry about their destructive potential.

Do keep in mind that They will attack many things in the aquarium. It includes filters, power cords, and heaters. They are also very fond of shaking up rocks and the interior décor of the tank. It makes aquascaping a challenging task for aquarists.

Speaking of destruction, do not insert your hand into the tank housing a Triggerfish. These intensely territorial species can injure you and draw blood. Some of them can even remove fingers. Their jaws have tremendous dismantling power. Do keep this in mind when doing tank maintenance.

Tank Setup

They do exceptionally well in most saltwater tanks with the following conditions:

  • About 77° Fahrenheit
  • 1.025 specific gravity
  • pH value of 8.1
  • The tank size of around 75 to 100 gallons or more

The only challenging aspect of Triggerfish care is the size of the tank, which is larger than what most beginners are willing to invest in.

If you are adamant about adding them with other marine animals, then make sure to provide plenty of hiding spaces (live rock) to ensure that threatened fish have a space to hide. As a general rule, the more space you can provide, the less aggressive the Triggerfish will be.

Things to Add in the Tank

There are no special requirements for Triggerfish. They do depend on a day-night cycle and rest at night. Should keep Sot eh tank on a day-night cycle that automatically adjusts brightness settings based on a timer.

You should provide a sand bed surface with small seashell pieces for them to bite and turn over as they search for prey and stimulate their hunting instincts.

Food & Diet

They are exclusively meat-eaters, and their diet consists of crabs, snails, small fish, urchins, and shrimp.

They will gladly eat other fish and should be kept in a fish-only. To ensure they maintain their unique markings, they should feed them a varied diet of shrimp, earthworms, squid, and octopus.

You can also provide them with vitamin supplements to nourish them. Aside from living food, you can also purchase frozen food available from most pet stores. Should cut this food into small bite-sized pieces that can offer to them three times a day.

Now and then, it would help if you dropped in a whole crayfish to see the Triggerfish obliterate the poor creature.

Pro Tip: Always supplement your Triggerfish’s natural diet with vitamin supplements. It is because you will never be able to replicate their diet in captivity as it is in the average triggerfish habitat.

They like to consume whole prey in the wild – not just the meat. It provides fish with a rich source of vitamins that must provide via supplements.

Remember, your worst enemy is improper nutrition because it will lead to many problems such as illnesses, loss of color, and eventually, death.

Breeding Guidelines

Most of them are nest builders and will aggressively defend their nest vigorously until the fry hatch in the evening, just one day after spawning. During the breeding process,

They will become extremely territorial. When fish build their nests, they will scatter their eggs. Their eggs are only about .045 mm in size and exceed well over 100,000 in number.

Unfortunately, it is not easy to breed Them in a home aquarium setting. The possibility exists, but it is so slim that most fishkeepers never bother. Only commercial farms are known for successfully breeding triggerfish.

Common Diseases and Dangers

They’re often described as almost indestructible. Fish are very resilient and very forgiving towards newcomers. It also means they have incredibly well-developed immune systems that work hard to fight off diseases that would otherwise wipe out an entire tank.

It explains why they’re prized after by fishkeepers. They rarely fall prey to most marine diseases and parasites that rear their ugly head now and then.

On the rare occasion that they get infected with parasites (such as ick), they will quickly recover with just a bit of treatment.

Where to Buy?

Can purchase from most saltwater pet stores at a reasonable price. The cheapest species is the Undulate Triggerfish at a price tag of only $20, and the costliest would be the Red Tail Triggerfish faring for around $200. Actual prices depend on availability, where you live, and the rarity of the species itself.

Wrapping Up

Triggerfish are ideal if you are willing to invest in a large enough tank (at least 75 gallons or more depending on the types of Triggerfish). They are hardy, resistant, and very entertaining to watch.

Most triggerfish varieties are striking in appearance and add a new dimension of color to your tank, making for an exciting spectacle. It is recommended to keep them in a separate tank of their own for the best results.

Just do not keep them with smaller, docile marine fish because they will either get bullied to death or get eaten alive. They’re not easy to breed because breeding requires unrealistically large tanks that are not easy for most home aquarists to provide. If that is a deal-breaker for you, then the Triggerfish may not be ideal for you.