Category: Salt Water
Facts about the Old Wife Fish, it is used for two distinct species. One common use refers to an Australian fish found throughout the temperate southern waters. The other use of the term Old Wife refers to a Caribbean fish.
All in a Name
The scientific name for the Australian Old Wife fish is Enoplosus armatus. It is also called the zebra fish, bastard dory and double scalare. The term zebra fish is also used for the Girella zebra fish, though that species has nine or ten vertical tapering dark bars.
The species was identified by White in 1790, and it received its popular name because the grinding of its teeth when caught was like the sound an old woman made.
There is an Old Wife Fish, also called the Queen Trigger, turbot or Caribbean Trigger fish, native to the Atlantic Ocean. That Old Wife Fish has the scientific name Balistes vetula. It grows to over a foot long.
The Old Wife Fish, species name Enoplosus armatus, is a perciform fish, part of the Perciformes order. The Old Wife Fish has a deep body and two separate dorsal fins. Juveniles are more elongate. The second dorsal fin is shaped like a sickle. That fin contains a venom that causes severe pain in humans. The forehead is concave. They look similar to the Moonlighter, scientific name Tilodon sexfasciatus.
These Old Wife fish range from silver white to brown. The fish has six to eight black bands that vary in width. Juveniles have a white rimmed spot on their dorsal fin that fades with adulthood. These fish reach ten inches or 25 centimeters in length.
The Old Wife trigger fish eats everything from live coral to algae to invertebrates to other fish and sea squirts. Smaller fish hover around that Old Wife to enjoy the leftovers, especially when it goes after sea urchins. The Atlantic Old Wife Fish has a spine as well, which it uses to lodge itself in one place while resting, though it will threaten approaching predators and even human divers with it.
Both types of Old Wife Fish are carnivorous. The Old Wife Fish eat crustaceans and worms. The Old Wife Fish filter the sand to feed on crustaceans and zooplankton. Adults are found singly or in pairs but sometimes school. They are territorial.
The Caribbean Old Wife Fish does not need kelp beds, but its carnivorous nature means it cannot share a tank with anglers, basslets, batfish, cardinals, dartfish, dragonets, filefish, or parrotfish.
Juveniles are found in estuaries, subtidal areas, seagrass beds, and rocky reefs. Adults are found in the coastal reefs. They prefer to live in rocky reefs or kelp beds.
This visually attractive species is difficult to keep in anything other than a large aquarium.
In the wild, the Australian Old Wife species is only found in the temperate coastal waters of Australia. The Enoplosus armatus ranges from south Queensland to Western Australia.
Enoplosus armatus is the only remaining member of the Enoplosidae family of species. There are several fossilized species in the same family. The genus is little changed in 50 million years. The species used to be misclassified as a member of the same genus as butterfly fishes.