Reducing Aggression in your Tank: EPISODE 1: The STOCKING PLAN

DexterB

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Tangs are often "dream fish" on a hobbyist's wish list. But they should be added last in a stocking order due to their dominant nature.

There are several ways to help reduce aggression in your tank. I like using many of these techniques not just on introduction, but continually as needed.
This post will discuss the "STOCKING PLAN". I will discuss the other techniques(**see below) in separate future posts.

**TECHNIQUES TO HELP REDUCE or PREVENT AGGRESSION:

1. A Well Researched & Executed Stocking Plan - this post
2. Overlooked Factors (the Big 3): AGE, GENDER & TANK SIZE
3. Aquascape to Suit Fish Needs
4. Feeding Stations
5. Acclimation Boxes

6. Plan B - Back ups

Aggression can occu
r:
  • Upon introduction in either QT or Display Tank
  • Suddenly as fish mature (or change gender)
  • When fish are stressed (over territory or food claims)
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EPISODE 1: THE STOCKING PLAN
A Well Researched & Executed Stocking Plan:
Ironically the easiest way to avoid aggression is the step often not implemented. Use a stocking plan!

Take your time:
  • RESEARCH
  • PLAN
  • ASK

Stocking ORDER is crucial. Ask what order each fish should be added. Planning helps you have a greater chance of success.

STEP ONE: WRITE YOUR "WISH LIST"
  • A Stocking Plan is a list of fish you desire to have in your tank.
  • Think of all the fish you want to have. Read, go to an LFS (but don't buy yet!!) & watch videos. See what appeals to you.
  • List these fish.

STEP TWO: SUBMIT YOUR LIST TO EXPERIENCED HOBBYISTS for REVIEW
Be sure to include your both the dimensions (LxWxH) of your tank as well as the gallon size.


Don't be overwhelmed. This should be a fun & exciting process. Post your wish list on this forum for members to review.
  • They might suggest a fish you might never have thought of on your own.🐡
  • They also can spot possible incompatibility issues.
  • They can suggest order for stocking; the size of species that is hardiest to QT etc.
  • Use experienced hobbyists for advice. Check out that they have experience & are recommended. Post your list on this forum for help.
  • Get several opinions. Look for advice that comes from experienced members. As Forums etc. grow, some inexperienced members post & speak with authority. Not maliciously, but they can give bad advice unwittingly. You will see this anywhere on the internet. So if someone says what you want to hear, but the majority is contradicting him/her - beware.
Caution: Beware of getting suggestions from an LFS. At the end of the day, they are in the business of selling fish. There are some experienced, very conscientious LFS owners that work hard guiding their customers to make good choices. But I have been in many LFS where staff speak with authority, but misinform customers. It is usually unintentional misinformation. Again take your time. Get other opinions to confirm any advice.

STEP THREE: ORDER IS EVERYTHING!
Often "dream fish" are added too early. All tanks have definite pecking orders. Certain species have a tendency to be dominant or "tank bosses". Add these more dominant (or aggressive) types of fish last. This gives more timid or deliberate fish time to establish.
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My big boy Goldflake Angel. Very boisterous (a glutton) but submissive to my Regal Angel.

1. Add small, more timid fish first.
Ex: Gobies, Firefish, Chromis
Let these fish get established.
2. Add medium sized & more active fish next.

Ex: Wrasses, Anthias, Dwarf Angels

Adding your small to medium fish prior helps your larger fish stay out more & not be as skittish. "Dither fish" are effective in a tank. They let the other fish know it is "safe" to be out exploring the tank.

3. Add large fish last. Add very dominant fish or aggressive last.
This way aggression is dispersed & pecking order is worked out all at one time.
Ex: Triggers, Tangs, Larger Puffers etc.

For example: Copperband Butterflies are deliberate eaters. They like to graze & explore all day. They are less stressed, if established before a more boisterous, dominant fish like a tang is added.

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My "tank boss" the Regal Angel swimming with my Copperband. The CBB was added way before the Regal & Goldflake.



STEP FOUR: ADDING GROUPS OF THE SAME SPECIES

Always get guidance if you want to add groups of the same species
. Many factors affect this. Some species can only be solitary in a tank. Some can be added successfully in groups, when done with certain guidelines. Tank size is one factor. While it may work fine in a large tank, it can be all out war in a smaller tank.

In general the best case scenario is to add the same species together into the display at the same time.
If you want a "tang gang" keep this in mind!
In the first photo I added a Gem Tang, Blonde Naso & Whitetail Bristletooth at the same time.

If you add the same genus be very careful. Example: a trio of Zebrasoma ( 3 Yellow tangs; 2 Yellow + 1 Purple tang; Salfin + Yellow + Purple tang) can be tricky to add. Get advice before you try it.


Also within different groups of fish there will be subgroups with their own pecking order. In my tank the Regal is the "tank boss". But within my dwarf angel group the Bicolor Angel is "boss" of the dwarf angels. This dwarf angel group has its own hierarchy : Bicolor (boss)>Coral Beauty>Flame>Potter's>Multicolor Angel(bottom).
Because of the subgroups with their own hierarchies, these subgroups are often best added together.

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Some pics of my dwarf angel group. The Bicolor angel is the boss of this subgroup of dwarf angels.


Want to add wrasses? Check out this link by Hunter Hammond (evolved) on Fairy Wrasse compatibility.

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SUMMARY

Research & put together a stocking plan of all the fish you want for your tank. Submit it for advice on this forum or to a experienced hobbyist. They can give guidance to help you succeed. You have a valuable resource with this Forum & members who are happy to help.
 

mattzang

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i've been pondering this recently, specifically with centropyges. my tank is a 4' 100g and i have a potters, multicolor (well, soon), and a flame angel. the potters is small, so guessing a female. the multicolor should also be smallish, but it arrives thursday so not sure on that and idk if multicolors can be sexed? and then i have a large male flame that i've had for a couple years now. he's a big goon so he's relegated to my 40 breeder observation tank currently.

my plan is to add the potters and multicolor at the same time on thursday. then they can kinda get in the tank and get comfy. but then i'm not sure how or when i should add the flame angel. i feel like there are tons of examples of 2 dwarfs in a 4' tank, but 3 is a bit more risky. i'm thinking the best will be to give the potters and multicolor time to get comfy, but not so much time that one becomes dominant and decides to own the tank only for me to put in the flame later on who i'm fairly sure will be dominant over both as potters and multicolors have more of a relaxed reputation in general.

i also have an acclimation box so i'm thinking i'll put the flame in there for a bit so the fish can all get to know each other, but i'm thinking there will be some aggression once i let him out and he decides to go take ownership of some area of the tank.

what does everyone think?
 

clsanchez77

20 Year Noob
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Metairie, LA
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Excellent writeup Dexter.

i've been pondering this recently, specifically with centropyges. my tank is a 4' 100g and i have a potters, multicolor (well, soon), and a flame angel. the potters is small, so guessing a female. the multicolor should also be smallish, but it arrives thursday so not sure on that and idk if multicolors can be sexed? and then i have a large male flame that i've had for a couple years now. he's a big goon so he's relegated to my 40 breeder observation tank currently.

my plan is to add the potters and multicolor at the same time on thursday. then they can kinda get in the tank and get comfy. but then i'm not sure how or when i should add the flame angel. i feel like there are tons of examples of 2 dwarfs in a 4' tank, but 3 is a bit more risky. i'm thinking the best will be to give the potters and multicolor time to get comfy, but not so much time that one becomes dominant and decides to own the tank only for me to put in the flame later on who i'm fairly sure will be dominant over both as potters and multicolors have more of a relaxed reputation in general.

i also have an acclimation box so i'm thinking i'll put the flame in there for a bit so the fish can all get to know each other, but i'm thinking there will be some aggression once i let him out and he decides to go take ownership of some area of the tank.

what does everyone think?
I think 3 in a 4-ft tank would be worth a shot. I was going to experiment with this myself, but I could not get 3 through QT. I have a solid pair now so I don't want to mess it up. If I ever lose my pair, I plan to setup a 55 long for QT and try 3 again.

I think the key from everything I have read and from what I have witnessed in my tank is they each need a territory to call their own. The acclimation box will help them get used to looking at each other, but it will not solve the territory issue. In my tank (48"x18"), I notice the female does not spend too much time away from her den, whereas the male patrols the whole tank. The female seems to stay in the left 3-ft of the tank and almost never ventures on the far side of the rock on the right. This makes me think that a 6-ft tank would be successful for two females, but we won't know unless you try it LOL
 

clsanchez77

20 Year Noob
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Metairie, LA
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Adding your small to medium fish prior helps your larger fish stay out more & not be as skittish. "Dither fish" are effective in a tank. They let the other fish know it is "safe" to be out exploring the tank.
This +1. The concept of dither fish is all but lost in the hobby these days as everybody only wants show fish. I'm into Natural looking reefs and dither fish are such an important aspect to this. I am also working on a series of articles on this particular subject. Small schools of gobies, such as the Masked Goby, are perfect for a purpose like this. Unfortunately, I discovered that Falco Hawks eat Masked Gobies. I will try to find some with better masks for next time.
 

DexterB

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i've been pondering this recently, specifically with centropyges. my tank is a 4' 100g and i have a potters, multicolor (well, soon), and a flame angel. the potters is small, so guessing a female. the multicolor should also be smallish, but it arrives thursday so not sure on that and idk if multicolors can be sexed? and then i have a large male flame that i've had for a couple years now. he's a big goon so he's relegated to my 40 breeder observation tank currently.

my plan is to add the potters and multicolor at the same time on thursday. then they can kinda get in the tank and get comfy. but then i'm not sure how or when i should add the flame angel. i feel like there are tons of examples of 2 dwarfs in a 4' tank, but 3 is a bit more risky. i'm thinking the best will be to give the potters and multicolor time to get comfy, but not so much time that one becomes dominant and decides to own the tank only for me to put in the flame later on who i'm fairly sure will be dominant over both as potters and multicolors have more of a relaxed reputation in general.

i also have an acclimation box so i'm thinking i'll put the flame in there for a bit so the fish can all get to know each other, but i'm thinking there will be some aggression once i let him out and he decides to go take ownership of some area of the tank.

what does everyone think?
Usually it is better to have an odd group. But as you said, adding the Flame is going to be tricky. Flames are one of the more assertive dwarf angels. That combined with your Flame being a male & larger...it is more risky than if the Flame was smaller (or closer in size compared to the other 2 dwarf angels).

Key to this is as @clsanchez77 advises is having enough territory to not be stressed.

Here are some suggestions I would use if you try this:

As you mentioned, let Multicolor & Potter’s get very comfy. Observe to see if either is very shy or hides a lot. If one is very submissive it might have a hard time with a dominant Flame.

If both Potter's & MC seem fairly confident & stay out grazing & exploring, it is a good sign.
If either is timid, easily spooked etc., I would not try the Flame. A very timid fish can be a very tempting target to a domineering alpha Flame angel.

If you try using your acclimation box, don’t release the Flame until he ignores the dwarfs, when they come up to him. Then if they are calm with each other, before you release Flame add:

CAVES
Add 1 or 2 new small caves to tank right before you add Flame.
I did this with my dwarf group. It made them focus on the new areas to explore, instead of one another.
Release on day you can observe carefully.

I added my Coral Beauty to my dwarf group. At first we did not think the Flame was going to accept the CB. The Flame would spank the CB’s acc box. Bobby helped guide us. It took 2 days before I could successfully release the CB. I had an big advantage that the CB was equal in size to the Flame, so the CB was confident (not cowering). Another advantage was my Bicolor is the tank boss of the dwarf angels. At one point the Bicolor swam up & spanked my Flame (who was spanking the acc box).😆 Then my tiny Potter’s (who was at the bottom of the hierarchy back then) swam up gave the Flame a bump, then tore off into a cave. So I had a pecking order on my side.

So once they ignored each other I released the CB. I left the acc box ( fish trap with door open) in my tank for several days after the release. That way the CB felt he had a safe place, if needed. My dwarf angels get along well. The Potter’s likes to swim with the CB. The Multicolor is the least assertive but stays out exploring. MC is a very pretty fish & so underrated.

Let us know what you decide.🙂
 

mattzang

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so far the MC seems to be a little more timid, granted it got shipped across the country and then went right into the tank yesterday so i gotta let that one settle in a bit to really find out. the potters was in my care for over a month so she knows where the food comes from :D

i'm also hoping the flame being in a different complex will maybe hopefully help a bit too. but if memory serves the potters was right next to it, just not in the same group. the multicolor was closer to the paracentropyges if i recall correctly.

either way i'm going camping in a couple weeks so i'll wait until after that at least.
 

Bri G

Member
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Thank you Dexter for writing this! I am in the process of selecting the next group of fish to add to my tank so your write up was timed perfectly and is very informative. Once I narrow down my list I might post it to get some feedback from everyone.

By the way, your Goldflake Angel is stunning! All your fish look happy and healthy. Nice tank!

Thanks again! :)
 

clsanchez77

20 Year Noob
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Metairie, LA
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Usually it is better to have an odd group.
I would love to know the science behind this. I have heard this parroted throughout the hobby for ever, but I have never seen any paper or experiment on the issue. I'm not personally knocking you for it, but I have seen this stated so many times over so many years and yet I have no idea where it is coming from.

I will say this, my Royal Gramma harem started out as 5. When I moved them from QT to DT, it went to 4...and remained at 4 for about 3 years. Only this past year did I noticed one missing and I have been at 3 since around February.

On my cherub angels, my pair kept killing off the third wheel. I lost my first mated pair while still in QT due to an ammonia spike. My second attempt at a 3-way, two paired up and killed the 3rd. I have had that solid pair in DT for again, probably 3 years. Solid as a rock.

Years ago (a decade and a half actually) when I kept shoal of Atlantic Blue Reef Chromis, I started with 7, did not QT and went straight to DT. Why 7? Because the general rule of thumb back then was to keep damsels and chromis in odd numbers. No one knew why, but every said it. So I did. I maintained all 7 until Hurricane Gustav wiped out the tank from a 2 week power outage. So this was about a 2 year run, maybe a little longer. I know things got bad as 4 of the fish jumped out and died on the floor. The other 3 died in the tank and the bodies were still intact as all the detrivores were dead too. Was a very sad, and smelly, sight.

Again, this isn't personal, I just want to know where did this odd number rule come from? And is it all odd numbers, or just the prime numbers lol. Like does 3, 5, 7, 11 and 13 work, but don't try 9 or 15! Do this fish play musical mates at night and if there isn't any odd man out, they kill one? Oh well, enough fun for one post LOL.
 

mattzang

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I bet it’s just a keep more than two unless it’s a pairing species thing. Like 2 clowns good but 2 anthias bad. Idk if my situation would even benefit from a third unless the potters gets big and decides it’s the captain now. It also had me torn on do I just get a multicolor or potters to go with the flame? Then I got greedy of course and thought hey if the flame will be a goon, probably best to have 2 subservient fish in there for him to spread the hate around. But who really knows since fish don’t read the same behavior articles we do 🤔
 

DexterB

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No offense taken.
TBH it may have started to encourage ppl in the hobby to get at least 3 of a group vs 2 to help disperse aggression. So on that thought, I see the science in odd #.

As the quantity increases past 3, odd# vs even, isn't as important as dispersing aggression. So if you can add 8 anthias vs 7, it would make more sense to add 8.

I
 

Rascal

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It’s amazing how one post with good pictures can change your stocking plan lol. I have always liked the dwarf angels but was afraid to go with them due to reef safe with caution. I understand they need to be well feed to cut down on the chance of them nipping at corals but has anyone seen them nipping and if so what types of coral do the tend to target? I’m looking at bi-color, potters and either coral beauty or rusty. 180 gallon (5’) tank mixed reef with 70% being soft coral. I also read somewhere that dwarfs can be sensitive to copper so any issues you guys aware of?
 

DexterB

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It’s amazing how one post with good pictures can change your stocking plan lol. I have always liked the dwarf angels but was afraid to go with them due to reef safe with caution. I understand they need to be well feed to cut down on the chance of them nipping at corals but has anyone seen them nipping and if so what types of coral do the tend to target? I’m looking at bi-color, potters and either coral beauty or rusty. 180 gallon (5’) tank mixed reef with 70% being soft coral. I also read somewhere that dwarfs can be sensitive to copper so any issues you guys aware of?
Top photo is of my tang/anthias/wrasse tank. So you see lots of LPS. No angels in that tank🙂.

Angel tank (dwarf/large)- angel pics is soft coral focused. I'll link a great video by Austin L. It talks about corals angels tend to go after, as well as some they aren't as inclined to nip.

If they are well fed, they can still nip corals. For instance, zoas are almost irresistible to many angels. The video explains this so well. My angels leave toadstools, leathers, pipe organ, gonipora & alvepora alone. But if I were to put acan corals or zoas in the tank, I'm sure they would go after them with relish.
 

Rascal

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Top photo is of my tang/anthias/wrasse tank. So you see lots of LPS. No angels in that tank🙂.

Angel tank (dwarf/large)- angel pics is soft coral focused. I'll link a great video by Austin L. It talks about corals angels tend to go after, as well as some they aren't as inclined to nip.

If they are well fed, they can still nip corals. For instance, zoas are almost irresistible to many angels. The video explains this so well. My angels leave toadstools, leathers, pipe organ, gonipora & alvepora alone. But if I were to put acan corals or zoas in the tank, I'm sure they would go after them with relish.
Well that’s probably going to take them back off the list sadly.........looking forward to the video and thanks for the information.
 

DexterB

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Glad you asked @Rascal. Photos are misleading. You will seen gorgeous tanks loaded with SPS & all sorts of angels in them. This is because there are so many mature corals in those tanks, that the angels nipping doesn’t decimate the colonies. Google John Coppolino (“Copps”) as an example. His tank with large, mature LPS & SPS can handle the nipping from his angels & butterflies.

I did my Angel tank with corals described in video above. We really like corals with movement. So many of the corals recommended are my favorites anyway.

When you post your fish stocking plan, post corals you would like to keep too. Members can advise you on fish/coral compatibility too.
 
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