When I first fell in love with the whole diverse family of angelfishes, Genicanthus caudovittatus was known as the ‘Red Sea Zebra’ angelfish, because back then, this species was only known to occur in the Red Sea and surrounding waters. Then in the late 90s this fish was documented way out in the Maldives, and subsequent years brought further range extensions of this fish to India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and then Northern Sumatra in Indonesia.
Discovering this species of swallowtail angelfish throughout the Indian Ocean where no other congeners are known is less of a surprise these days, but we still remember the excitement of this elusive species becoming collected in the Maldives when the Red Sea shipments had dried up. In my mind, G. caudovittatus is still a ‘Red Sea’ fish to me, it just now happens to enjoy a greatly enlarged natural range throughout the Indian Ocean.
Despite showing only its initial female coloration, this Genicanthus caudovittatus is still a very angelic reef fish which a bright bluish-white dorsal and soft body coloration which reminds us of the masked angelfish.
So you can imagine my surprise when specimens of this fish appeared at Bali Aquarium from an Indonesian supplier east of Bali! That’s right, a formally Red Sea fish was being collected in the heart of Indonesia, well beyond the Wallace Line which tends to keep animals, one one side of the divide or the other.
This phenomenon explains how waifs can make it so far into the Indo-Pacific basin, and these lonely fish are probably the source of the myriad of hybrid reef fish we see all over the region. This female zebra angelfish may not yet be a showstopping reef fish but the insight that this one individual offers us to the dynamics of reef fish dispersion is still quite special.
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