VIDEO: Moorish Idol Shoal Two Years in Captivity
20 May, 2020
CORAL Editor Matt Pedersen speaks with New Life Spectrum founder Pablo Tepoot about his years of success maintaining large groups the frustratingly challenging Moorish Idol, Zanclus cornutus, in the home aquarium. What’s his secret?
“22 months, 25 Moorish Idols thriving with New Life Spectrum feeding. We believe that we can keep them thriving for the long term.” – February 2020.
The video, and the claims presented with it, demanded attention. The only thing to do was sit down and place a phone call to get the firsthand story directly from Pablo Tepoot, a well-known fish breeder, cichlid and tropical fish farm operator in Florida, author, and the founder of New Life Spectrum.
As of today, this massive display of Moorish Idols has now been running successfully for 25 months. This isn’t the first time that Tepoot has shown off large groups of challenging fishes, including showing them feeding voraciously on his prepared diets.
See it for yourself, and then find out how it was done!
MP: Pablo, it’s good to talk to you again. I think the last time we spoke was at a MACNA, discussing hybrid African cichlids. I saw your recent video showcasing a large group of Moorish Idols (Zanclus cornutus), and I have to ask you about them.
Tepoot: I don’t know that anyone has kept a school of Moorish Idols, other than the Georgia Aquarium.
MP: I had a group of five Moorish Idols in my 300-gallon saltwater pond. It worked well for a while, but there were some big problems with aggression. What’s your secret?
Tepoot: There are 25 of them, and that’s the secret. The large number, there are so many of them, that it spreads out the aggression, just like with cichlids. The only way to keep them is singly or in a large group. 2 or 3, generally, they still go after each other even when there are many other fish in the tank; they’ll kill each other.
This current group is in a 400-gallon, fish-only saltwater aquarium, with a classic wet-dry filter, not even a protein skimmer. I really don’t do anything special. I don’t even do water changes. The major, important thing is that there’s no ammonia, no nitrite. High phosphate or high nitrate [isn’t a problem for] the fish-only tank. I think there’s a “misconception of water quality;” my anemones do well in this situation without feeding.
MP: OK, but this is not the first time you’ve kept a large group of Moorish Idols. What happened to that first tank?
Tepoot: A hurricane…
MP: How long did that group of Idols last, prior to the hurricane?
Tepoot: It ran for two years. It was all Moorish Idols with just a couple other fish.
MP: So, I want to know more about your current Moorish Idols. Mine were from Hawaii; the source at the time told me that they were in the ocean just 48 hours before arriving at my home. They took to foods pretty readily. I think these are fish that do poorly in the chain of custody and do best on short journeys. How did you source your Idols?
Tepoot: I think most of these came from Africa. I think the best source for Idols is Costa Rica (Eastern Pacific).
MP: We’ll talk about what you’re feeding them in a minute, but first, I want to ask, what is your track record like? Does every Moorish Idol you get, live?
Tepoot: No, I think in the process of getting them I probably have lost about 1/3. Out of 10, you can save 7…I think this is comparable to other difficult saltwater fish. When I had problems, Number One, they would arrive in bad shape, already skin and bones, and then Number Two, they would not eat.
Saltwater is very difficult; you don’t know how they’re being collected. The fish may have been sitting around a long time, so it’s a challenge.
MP: Did you quarantine these fish?
Tepoot: Yes, all the fish were quarantined. The losses occurred during the quarantine process.
MP: But clearly, if you start with a healthy, quality fish, you’re having good success with them, and one of the big challenges and mysteries about keeping Moorish Idols is feeding them and maintaining long-term care. Tell me about the care of this current shoal of Moorish Idols.
Tepoot: This new tank has had the fish for about 20 months [at the time of our interview]. It’s a simple setup. I feed New Life Spectrum pellet foods. I feed them two teaspoons of pellets per feeding, once in the AM, once in the PM. Other than the Moorish Idols, the tank also houses two Spotted Ctenochaetus Tangs (Ctenochaetus truncates), an Achilles Tang (Acanthurus achilles), and three Cowfish (Lactoria cornuta). I might add Flying Gunards (Dactylopterus volitans) in the future.
An important part of this is the pellets. The pellets have to maintain their integrity so the fish have time to eat them; our pellets take half a day to fall apart. Moorish Idols are slow eaters: they continuously pick for five to ten minutes, even longer. You could not keep a Moorish Idol successfully in a tank full of boisterous fish like Yellow Tangs (Zebrasoma flavescens) and other aggressive eaters…that would be an issue.
MP: So how much have the fish grown since you obtained them?
Teepot: The smallest Moorish Idols have doubled in size since I got them. The larger ones, I think they are near their final size, and they don’t grow much. The Cowfish were like the size of a marble when I got them; they’re now 6 inches, they’re very big.
MP: So, obviously, a massive group of healthy, active, Moorish Idols is attention-grabbing and probably has raised a few eyebrows. Why do you do it?
Teepot: When Jeff Turner (Boyd Enterprises, Chemi Pure, Reef Aquaria Design) came to visit, the phosphates and nitrates were off the charts. He was shocked. I wanted to prove one thing: nutrition is, I think, the most important aspect of marine fish health. The food must provide all energy needed for growth, movement, etc.. What goes in must surpass what they burn. The energy input has to exceed the energy expenditure, that’s the main key.
When I first started making New Life Spectrum, I was thinking about a space station. You can’t eat a bunch of roughage. The food has to be very efficient, nutritionally dense food.
MP: Do you feed anything other than your New Life Spectrum pellets?
Tepoot: The simple answer is no. I only feed them New Life Spectrum.
I remember many years ago David Boruchowitz, Editor of TFH [Tropical Fish Hobbyist magazine], questioned whether feeding only one food could maintain fish health. But what if you have all the variety mixed into one food? Do you then need variety?
If I provide you a very complete, nutritional food—a lot of veggies, the best proteins—but you insist on eating “taco ole,” hamburger, french fries, Twinkies…does the variety help or hurt you?
For example, we don’t use soybean in our foods, and we use different varieties of algae, not just kelp. It costs more, and a lot of people aren’t willing to do it. The results show in our fish. [The late] Bob Fenner wass a fairly big talker, but he was always honest…he was never going to say something that’s not true. I remember him saying to me, “Your Achilles [tangs] look better in your tank than in the ocean!”
I believe our food prevents HLLE in marine fish. I think we can save a lot of fish, a lot of expensive fish. A lot of people really need to know more about fish nutrition; it is very much an important thing.
MP: I know you recently added probiotics to some of your foods [see our MACNA 2017 report]. Is there anything you care to say about that aspect of fish foods?
Tepoot: I think some of the aquarium foods available that have probiotics might not have viable bacteria in them, due to the high heat [in the food making process], which destroys [probiotics]. How can you have probiotics in a flake food? You cannot spray them on. 60ºC (140ºF) kills them. It’s marketing. Spectrum’s probiotics are viable, live, dormant spores.
MP: Any parting thoughts?
Tepoot: I don’t think fish nutrition gets nearly enough attention. We need to talk about it more. I really care about the fish. If our foods can help out, that’s the most important thing. People should read my article, The Facts About Fish Nutrition, if they want to learn more. It was on Wet Web Media (currently the site is offline pending updates), but you can find it on the NLS website.
One other thing, I don’t want to encourage people to go out, gung-ho, and purchase Moorish Idols. Very few people keep them successfully. That was my motivation to use them here, to showcase what our foods are capable of.
Watch more footage of Tepoot’s Moorish Idol aquarium from late 2019.
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About the author
June 09, 2020
Thanks for the article, I just purchased his pellets from LiveAquaria and asked if they have any Medium specimens that are already eating pellets. Having lost four Moorish Idols in a well established Reef and Fish 150, I’m up for another try. If his food doesn’t do the job, I’ll let you know. 10 Days seems to be the average before they starve out. It’s really a sad thing to watch. This is the “Showcase” Fish I have always wanted.
July 18, 2020
Which specific NLS does he actually use for the moorish idol tank? I believe they have many different types.
October 05, 2020
I know Tepoot is correct about Moorish Idols being captured and exported. The time it takes for the fish to arrive in a hobbyists tank can be too long, by which time the fish is emaciated and very thin. I have found they never recover. I catch my own Moorish Idols here in South East Queensland, Australia with much success in getting them to feed and maintaining them long term. Struggled for many years to understand this delicate fish. Hence many losses!