How to Care for Black Triggerfish in Your Aquarium

Black Triggerfish on coral reef background. Molokini, Maui, Hawaii.
ggutarin / Getty Images

The fascinating Black Triggerfish is one of the least aggressive Triggerfish and can be easy to care for in a larger tank. Not only can these intelligent fish learn to eat from your hand, but they are also capable of vocalizing in several different ways. The key to success with this species is to provide plenty of swimming space, interesting rock formations to explore, and tankmates that can handle a larger semi-aggressive community member.

Breed Overview

Common Names: Black Triggerfish, Black Durgeon, Bursa Triggerfish, Hawaiian Black Trigger

Scientific Name: Melichthys niger

Adult Size: 14 inches

Life Expectancy: 5 to 6 years


Family Balistidae
Origin Tropics around the globe except the Caribbean
Social Aggressive
Tank Level All levels
Minimum Tank Size 90 gallons
Diet Omnivore
Care Moderately difficult
pH pH 8.1 to 8.4
Temperature 72 to 78 F

Origin and Distribution

The Black Triggerfish is circumtropical, meaning that it occurs in oceans around the world at the same tropical latitudes. It can be found off the shores of Hawaii and Polynesia, in the East Indies, and in the Indian Ocean. In addition, it is distributed off the southern coast of Africa, in the Indo Pacific, and the Red Sea. A similar breed of fish can even be found in the tropical Atlantic Ocean.

In the wild, each Black Triggerfish has its own house to live in amongst the coral and rock formations just outside the reef, but they will emerge and congregate above near the surface of the water in large schools to feed on current drifting zooplankton and algae.

Colors and Markings

On the face and around the eyes there are thin, light blue-turquoise colored lines. Along the base of both the soft dorsal and anal fins, there are bold white lines. The body appears to be black in the wild, but once out of the water with some light on this fish, you can actually see that its body is of a dark blue to blue-green color with horizontal markings present.

Like all Triggerfish, this species has a hard spiny dorsal fin that is usually carried flat against the fish's body in a special groove, but which can be locked into place when necessary. The Triggerfish uses this spine to hold itself in place when sleeping so that predators have a hard time pulling them out of hiding. The spine is also used to warn predators away and may be used as a weapon. When caring for your pet Triggerfish, use gloves to avoid painful encounters.

Triggerfish are also distinguished by their ability to vocalize. Black Triggerfish may make "put put put" sounds or growls; these noises are amplified by their swim bladder.


Black Triggerfish are one of the least aggressive of the triggerfish but they are, nevertheless, a poor choice for reef tanks. This species will nip at corals and eat reef invertebrates (even sea urchins). An aggressive species, it will also attack and eat smaller, more passive fish. Thus, Black Triggerfish are best kept in fish-only tanks with larger species that can hold their own. Keep only one Black Triggerfish at a time, unless you have a mated pair. Some good tankmates may include moray eels, snappers, angelfish, and tangs. Avoid housing Black Triggerfish with Lionfish, however, as the Lionfish are slow-moving and have long, tempting fins.

Habitat and Care

The Black Triggerfish is a very active fish that needs lots of room to move around, and plenty of shelter for hiding. In fact, if placed in a smaller tank, this species is much more likely to be aggressive. Set up your large, fish-only tank with a variety of "reefs," live rock, and hiding places for your Black Trigger Fish. 


An omnivore that can be fed a mixed diet of shrimp, squid, clams, fish, and other meaty fares suitable for carnivores, as well as marine algae and vitamin-enriched herbivore foods. Feed these fish three times a day, serving about the amount they can consume in five minutes. Triggerfish can actually be trained to eat from your hand at the surface of the tank, but be careful as they can administer painful bites.

Sexual Differences

There are no obvious sexual differences between the male and female Black Triggerfish.


Black Triggerfish select mates and lay and fertilize eggs. They then dig a nest in the seafloor, where the eggs are "glued" until they are ready to hatch. If the substrate is too hard, they will cover their eggs with broken shells. Both males and females guard the eggs, though the females do more of the guard duty; both males and females are quite aggressive when guarding their nest. Black Triggerfish are not bred in captivity.