Banggai Cardinalfsh, Pterapogon kauderni, in the Wild!
02 Mar, 2023
Recently, I was lucky enough to sail through the Banggai Islands. It’s a small archipelago consisting of two major islands and approximately 100 islets on the eastern side of central Sulawesi Province. The archipelago is situated between the Sula and Celebes islands at the entrance to Tolo Gulf. These quiet islands are famous for being the home of the famous Banggai Cardinal (Pterapogon kauderni).
This popular and threatened aquarium fish is nowadays quite protected in Indonesia. Plus, enormous aquaculture farms in Thailand produce thousands of them every month.
A Much Better Protection System
The Indonesian Ministry of Fisheries has implemented a harvest quota, with a collection and shipping licensing process, that considerably reduced collection, and improved its collection and shipping conditions. Several attempts were made to list this species under Appendix II of the CITES convention. However, since the Indonesian government put in place adequate measures, these efforts were abandoned. But, this species is still listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in the USA.
An Amazingly Efficient Mimicry
Banggai Cardinalfish will hide in anything with vertical lines: Diadema Urchins (Diadema setosum), Long vertical staghorn branches of Acropora aspera, Acropora muricata, Acropora pulchra…and even long tentacles of certain sea anemones such as Heteractis doreenensis and H. paumotensis. Their zebra-style mimicry system looks pretty basic but is actually very efficient, and sometimes spotting them can be quite challenging.
Hovering over different groups of the Banggai Cardinals I couldn’t help to notice that from above, within the spines of Diadema urchins, they were quite easy to spot, but when I was going down, coming on the same horizontal plane as them, they were almost impossible to distinguish within their coral, anemone or echinoderm host.
The bar on the eye is so effective. To the point, it’s difficult to get proper photography of the fish with a clear, in-focus eye.
Banggai Cardinalfish Habitat
We found the Banggai Cardinal (Pterapogon kauderni), living in shallow, protected, reef and lagoon environments. It was very easy to find them just by snorkeling along the beach, right where the corals start growing.
We could find some all the way to 10 m (30ft) deep, where it has to use anemones as hosts as no Diadema Urchins are found further down.
Now a Wider Area of Distribution
While the Banggai Cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni) was historically restricted to the Banggai Islands, it has since been introduced in many other localities around North Sulawesi, Bali…by aquarium collectors. There it has now an established local population that has been prosperous ever since being released in Lembeh Strait. The good thing with this species is that it can’t really spread out too far too quickly, and fits in pretty well among other cardinal populations.