The dottyback fish species belongs to the order Perciformes and the family Pseudochromidae. There are at least 4 subfamilies, 24 genera and 152 species of dottybacks. Most of the popular dottybacks for humans belong to the Pseudochromis genus. They are a marine species, but in rare cases have been found inhabiting brackish waters. They can be found in the Indo-Pacific Ocean, Red Sea and Western Pacific such as near Papua New Guinea. They prefer to keep close to crevices and among rubble. Some species like the carpet eel-blenny, a larger species of dottyback, live in shallow waters among seagrass beds, tidal rubble flats and tidepools. Dottybacks have one spine on their pelvic fin and elongated bodies. They are small but brilliantly colored. Their colors are sometimes solid throughout or split down the middle vertically. Larger species like the Congrogadinae subfamily will grow to a max of 50 cm in length. Dottybacks feed on small fish, zooplankton and invertebrates like crustaceans and bristleworms.
All dottybacks are hermaphrodites, so they may utilize both male and female sexual organs. Between two dottybacks, the larger one will take on the role of a male. After a successful mating dance from the male, the female will deposit as many as 1000 eggs into the male’s cave for him to fertilize. The egg sack is negatively buoyant, so it will adhere to the inside of the cave’s walls. The male will fan its fins to provide oxygen to the eggs and move the eggs out of harm’s way when necessary. Some species of dottybacks are mouthbrooders as well. The female is kept away from the eggs at this time. It takes about 3-6 days for the fry to hatch. The female is ready to mate again after only 7 days from having laid eggs. The cycle then repeats itself.
In the wild, dottybacks are fairly shy and hide in their crevices to avoid harm. However, despite their small size these fish can be incredibly territorial. Some species like the magenta dottybacks are more civil with different species of fish, but others like the royal and bicolor dottyback will battle larger and more aggressive fish like triggerfish. A species like the carpet eel-blenny is recommended by aquarists to be housed with other aggressive fish to avoid stressing out more timid or docile species of fish. Most species of dottyback are not considered endangered, but the pale dottyback from the North Red Sea is one of only a few Red Sea species on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of endangered species. One threat to dottybacks is wild collection practices by aquarium enthusiasts who adore their vibrant colors and personalities. Luckily, there have been more efforts to breed dottybacks in captivity with places like ORA farms. This will help decrease the need to collect the fish straight from nature.