The Orchid Dottyback is a brilliantly colored and very popular saltwater aquarium fish, often chosen because of the brilliant purple coloration, hardiness, and bold disposition. Let’s dive deeper into what it takes to care for the Orchid dottyback.
Table of contents
- Size: ~3 inches (7-8 cm), with a narrow body/torpedo shape
- Minimum tank size: 20-30 gallons (75-113 Liters)
- Life span: 5 to 7 years
- Reef safe: yes
- Care or experience level: easy, appropriate for all levels of experience
- Preferred diet: polychete worms or small, meaty foods
- Captive-bred available: yes
The scientific name for the Orchid Dottyback is Pseudochormis fridmani. Pseudochromis is the genus and fridmani is the species. It is also sometimes called Fridman’s dottyback or Fridman’s pseudochromis.
The Orchid Dottyback usually grows to be about 3-inches in size. The male is significantly larger (thicker, wider) than the female.
The Orchid Dottyback is a reef-safe saltwater fish. The only invertebrates it will bother are the kind most people are happy to have removed from their tanks, like bristle worms and potentially small fan worms. Author Scott Michael does warn that there may also be some risk to delicate shrimps as well (Michael 2004).
Care level or difficulty caring for the Orchid dottyback in a saltwater aquarium
The Orchid dottyback is easy-to-care-for and is a great beginner saltwater fish. or advanced aquariums. They are commonly available from aquaculture facilities like ORA, which generally suggests an even greater likelihood of successful care, given that aquacultured saltwater fish live their whole lives in an aquarium and acclimate easily. Here are a few considerations, when caring for Pseudochromis fridmani in your home aquarium:
Watch out, they may jump–best to have a tight-fitting lid to prevent carpet surfing.
They are carnivorous and therefore do best with meaty foods, and will generally accept most prepared foods easily.
Keep in mind that the Orchid Dottyback can live between five to seven years in captivity. Some have been recorded to live much longer with proper care.
The Orchid dottyback is considered to be semi-aggressive and the personality you see may vary, based on the specific conditions and inhabitants in your tank. They may be shy when first introduced and remain shy if there are aggressive species preventing their peaceful acclimation. However, when kept in a peaceful community tank, this fish can sometimes become the bully over other peaceful fish species, like purple firefish gobies or other small, docile fish.
I have a pair of dottybacks in a 30-gallon saltwater tank with a pair of Banggai Cardinalfish. They sometimes squabble over food (very briefly and without injury), but otherwise, they leave the cardinals alone.
You can (usually) keep multiple Orchid dottybacks in the same tank, however, it may best to add them to the aquarium at the same time, if they are similarly sized, or allow the smaller fish to establish their territory first, if they are different sizes, to give yourself the greatest odds of keeping the peace.
Pseudochromis fridmani is a protogynous hermaphrodite, which means that each fish is born with the ability (reproductive organs) to be either male or female. The gender shift occurs in the opposite direction as clownfish. Juvenile Orchid dottybacks start out female and the dominant, larger fish in a small group or pair will become male.
Pseudochromis fridmani is considered to be a semi-aggressive saltwater aquarium fish by most. That term can be a bit confusing, so let’s unpack it, just a little. In general, they have a pleasant disposition and are usually considered to be the most docile of all the dottybacks–but dottybacks have a reputation for being aggressive. You should expect some aggression to be displayed towards fish who enter your fish’s preferred territory and possibly other fish that are more mild-mannered than it. But otherwise, this fish should probably acclimate pretty nicely to life in your tank.
The aggression that I see in my orchids is generally the male (larger) fish charging at the female (smaller) fish, but he doesn’t pursue with intent to harm. Her fins are fully-intact, she doesn’t hide-away stressed-out, laboring for breath, or anything. They just do that for hours at a time.
There is very little aggression shown to the Banggai Cardinalfish they share the tank with.
It is best to feed your P. fridmani at least once a day with meaty food, like live blackworms, frozen mysis shrimp, or brine shrimp. They will also accept commercially prepared foods. This species isn’t a picky eater and will quickly devour just about any food you add into the tank.
If you have a moment, watch this video to see some juvenile Pseudochromis fridmani eating a meaty frozen food–it is mesmerizing:
Minimum tank size
The minimum tank size to keep the Pseudochromis fridmani is about 20-30 gallons. They are relatively small saltwater fish, but do enjoy zipping around the aquarium, once comfortable and would be healthiest with that much room, or more, to swim. Like most other reef fishes, they do best and are most confident in tanks with sufficient live rock or other small caves to allow them places to hide and rest out of sight.
Location in the tank
The Orchid Dottyback prefers to swim near the bottom and the middle of the tank. Keep that in mind, as you plan out your aquarium–once established, they will defend their territory from intruders with plans to occupy the same, or similar, location.
My male prefers to be in and around small ‘caves’–sections of PVC pipe, sponge filters, or even old pumps not in use are the domain. The female tends to swim around in the periphery.
The Orchid dottyback can be distinguished from other Pseudochromis species by their dark purple coloration and the black lines that run from the front of their mouths (tip of the snout) through each eye, back towards the edge of the gill plate. They are sometimes confused with the Magenta dottyback, but that fish has a lighter color (a bit more obvious when the fish are side-by-side than when one is alone in a fish store tank)–but look carefully and you’ll note that the magenta dottyback does not have a black line through the eye.
Pseduochromis fridmani will have a black line going from its mouth through its eye. If the fish doesn’t have the black stripe, then it is not an Orchid Dottyback.
The Orchid dottyback is a hardy fish that is fairly easy (by saltwater aquarium fish standards) bred in captivity. Since they are protogynous hermaphrodites, any two juvenile fish should technically be able to form a breeding pair, as long as they get along with each other. Once a pair bonds and begins spawning, you could expect them to repeat the spawning process about every week. The larvae hatch on night number four and settle/metamorphose around the 4th week (Wittenrich 2007).
I purchased two individuals about one month apart, one larger than the other. The larger fish (likely male) chases the smaller fish (female) on sight nearly every single time, but the aggression is generally not totally malicious. There never appears to be an intent to harm. They simply play a game called…if I see you…I charge…and then you run away.
The larger orchid dottyback also spends more time investigating caves. He has two favorites. The first is an old, retired Mag pump pre-sponge filter. The second is an old, retired, powerhead.
For more information
Check out this great video to learn more about caring for Pseudochromis fridmani:
What to read next
If you are interested in saltwater fish similar to Pseudochromis fridmani, check out these species next:
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The Orchid dottyback is a fantastic saltwater fish if you are looking for a brightly colored, hardy, captive-bred species. They generally acclimate to aquarium life well and are not picky eaters. As natural predators of polychaete worms, they can even help you keep control over a bristle worm problem. Do you have any experience caring for this great Pseudochromis?
If so, leave a comment below with your best tip, advice, or even just to share your experiences. Thanks!
Michael, Scott W. Bassetlets, Dottybacks & Hawkfishes: Plus Seven More Aquarium Fish Families with Expert Captive Care Advice for the Marine Aquarist. Microcosm Ltd. 2004.
Moe Jr., Martin A. Breeding the Orchid Dottyback, Pseudochromis Fridmani: An Aquarist’s Journal. Green Turtle. 1997
Wittenrich, Matthew L. The Complete Illustrated Breeder’s Guide to Marine Aquarium Fishes. T.F.H. Publications. 2007.