Fish Keeping 101

Aquarium Talk: Walking Batfish in the Aquarium - Care and Feeding of Ogcocephalus

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As a rule, walking batfish are best left to advanced aquarists, as there are many challenges in the feeding, housing, and maintaining of these unusual bottom-dwellers.

Fish of the genus Ogcocephalus can be difficult to maintain in captivity. These bottom-dwelling, tropical animals are poor swimmers who more frequently walk around on their pectoral fins. They may be sold in the aquarium trade as the long-nose batfish (O. corniger,) Brazilian batfish (O. vespertilio,) shortnose batfish (O. nasutus.), or polka-dot batfish (O. cubrifrons.) The aquarist should be well-informed of the challenges of keeping batfish before attempting to do so.

Obtaining Walking Batfish

Ogcocephalae are not known for breeding in captivity. Therefore, batfish sold in the aquarium trade are usually caught by trawlers in the waters off Florida, the Caribbean, Haiti, or Brazil. This method of capture often wounds the fish, and rapidly-spreading bacterial infection is so common it is simply referred to as "batfish rot."

Aquarium Setup for Walking Batfish

Walking batfish do best in a large saltwater tank (at least 75 gallons) with plenty of open ground space. A substrate of live sand works best, with live rock kept to a minimum if used at all. Avoid small bubbles from skimmers and airstones in the tank, as batfish are prone to gas bubble disease. Walking batfish are best kept in species-specific tanks, as they are slow eaters who are unable to compete with faster fish. They are also ambush predators who typically eat smaller tankmates (including other batfish). They will often do well with other batfish or frogfish of the same size.

Batfish require sub-tropical or tropical water temperature, depending on the species. Excellent water parameters and good filtration are a must. As batfish are nocturnal animals who prefer the darkness of the ocean bottom, it is preferable to blacken three sides of the aquarium and keep lighting fairly low. Otherwise, the batfish may continually bump up against the glass, causing damage to itself.

Care and Feeding of Walking Batfish

A long quarantine is a must for walking batfish before adding it to an aquarium system. Treatment, such as furazone or spectogram, may be necessary to combat "baitfish rot." Also, batfish are prone to protozoan infection, which may be treated with copper or formalin. There is usually a large presence of parasitic nematode worms in batfish. Fenbendazole is sometimes recommended for ridding the batfish of nematodes during quarantine.

Feeding batfish can be problematic. Sadly, many never take to eating in captivity. Live prey works best, especially crustaceans. Eventually, a batfish may learn to take frozen shrimp or mycids. Small snails, worms, and feeder fish may also be offered.

Batfish are easily stressed, and should be handled as little as possible. Specimen jars are preferred to nettting when the need to handle arises.

Even with dedicated care and attention, the walking batfish may be expected to live up to three years in the aquarium, whereas some live up to sixteen years in the wild.
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