Striped Squirrelfish (Hawaiian Squirrelfish)

Origins, Characteristics, and Helpful Information for Hobbyists

Hawaiian squirrelfish or Striped Squirrelfish.
Hawaiian squirrelfish or Striped Squirrelfish. Bernard Spragg. NZ/Flickr/CC0 1.0

A nocturnal schooling fish, striped squirrelfish are an interesting looking, brilliantly colored fish that can be a peaceful addition to your saltwater aquarium. They have characteristic large eyes that help them see in low light and a spiny dorsal fin that make it easily identifiable among other fish. It is so named because it can make a squirrel-like noise with its swim bladder.

Characteristics

Scientific Name

Sargocentron xantherythrum

Synonym

Holocentrus ascensionis, Adioryx xantherythrus

Common NamesRed and white striped squirrelfish, Hawaiian squirrelfish, yellow-red squirrelfish
FamilyHolocentridae
OriginIndo-Pacific oceans
Adult SizeUp to 7 inches
SocialPeaceful
Lifespan2 to 4 years
Tank LevelMiddle
Minimum Tank Size50 gallon
DietCarnivore
BreedingEgg-scatterer
CareIntermediate
pH8.1  to 8.4
Hardness8 to 12 dGH
Temperature72 to 78 F 

Origin and Distribution

The striped squirrelfish occurs on coral reefs of the Indo-West Pacific from southern Red Sea and East Africa to New Caledonia, north to southern Japan, south to Australia. In Australia it is known from the offshore reefs of north-western Western Australia and from the northern Great Barrier Reef to northern New South Wales. In the wild, these fish inhabit shallow, well-oxygenated areas.

Colors and Markings

The striped squirrelfish has a dorsal spine with eight to 14 dorsal soft rays. The soft rays are orange or yellow and the dorsal spine is vermilion. The snout of this fish is slightly concave.

The striped squirrelfish has a bright red body with about 10 bright white longitudinal stripes, and a red dorsal fin with the spines tipped with white. There are two diagonal white lines on the head, one that extends below the eye from the corner of the mouth to the base of the gill plate, and one that extends upwards from the base of the gill plate to the top of the eye.

This fish is often mistaken for its close relative, the crowned or diadem squirrelfish (Sargocentron diadema). Having the same two diagonal white lines on the head, what primarily separates the two species is that this particular fish has a deeper ruby-red colored body, the stripes are more of a bluish-white color, and the dorsal fin is black, white, and red.

Because this fish has rough scales and sharp gill spines, it can easily get caught or snagged in aquarium net materials. If this happens it may be difficult to remove the fish from the material without some scale damage occurring. Use caution when handling this and other squirrelfish. If poked by one of the spines, although not poisonous or toxic to humans, it can still result in a nasty and painful stinging injury.

Tankmates

Squirrelfish are generally a peaceful species of fish and make excellent additions to most marine community aquariums. Squirrelfish may be bullied and will run and hide rather than stand up to an aggressor. They fare well with more robust tank mates. Most mildly predatory fish tend to leave them alone because of their intimidating dorsal spikes. They also do best when kept in large groups of six or more. Compatible tankmates for the squirrelfish may include angelfish, anthias, batfish, clownfish, hawkfish, and tangs. Squirrelfish will prey on smaller species of fish and crustaceans.

Striped Squirrelfish Habitat and Care

The most suitable size of the tank is dependent upon how many squirrelfish you intend to have. A 50-gallon tank is suitable for a single fish, 75 gallons is good for a small group, and at least 100 gallons is needed for larger groupings.

Squirrelfish are active swimmers and should have sufficient swimming space. Squirrelfish prefer aquariums with strong water circulation.

As this fish is a nocturnal animal, it tends to hide in the shadows during daylight hours and comes out at night. If you keep this fish in a brightly lit aquarium, you most likely will not see it very often. To enjoy this fish, keep it in low lighting. You can make your tank into a more interesting display if you create a complete "nocturnal species tank" by combining a group of this fish with other non-aggressive nighttime tankmates. This fish was practically unheard of until the advent of “themed” aquariums. Once aquarium enthusiasts became enthralled by nocturnal tanks, then squirrelfish became an obvious choice. 

No matter what type of tank this fish is placed in, it requires lots of hiding places.

A shelter can be provided in the way of a live rock structure, a decorative rock cave, and crevice-type formations.

Striped Squirrelfish Diet

In the wild, the Hawaiian squirrelfish is a carnivore that feeds on a variety of crustaceans, such as shrimp and crabs, marine worms, brittle and serpent stars, and other motile invertebrates. At night, they spread out over the reef looking for food.

In captivity, it can be fed a varied diet of chopped seafood, live or frozen brine and mysid shrimp, as well as invertebrates, and other meaty foods or frozen preparations usually suitable for carnivores. Feed this fish two times a day.

Sexual Differences

There are no noticeable differences physically among the sexes.

Breeding the Striped Squirrelfish

There is little information about successfully breeding squirrelfish in the home aquarium. Like many other marine organisms, they reproduce by external fertilization. They are pelagic, or egg scatterers, which means that that let the water column carry the eggs in open waters and do not guard their offspring. 

Unique Characteristic

Squirrelfish are known for their ability to make a variety of clicking and grunting noises, which are produced by vibrating their swim bladders. It is believed that they do this to defend themselves and their territories. For example, some squirrelfish can make different sounds depending on the type of threat that is faced. When facing a fish that is too large to intimidate, the squirrelfish emits a series of clicking noises, signaling the need to retreat from the situation. 

More Pet Fish Breeds and Further Research

If striped squirrelfish appeal to you, and you are interested in similar fish for your aquarium, read up on:

Check out additional fish breed profiles for more information on other saltwater fish.