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Is there a less understood, over-utilized and mistreated fish family than the damsels? If there is, I am unaware of it. Hobbyists extending the world over, either from ignorance or disbelief of the plethora of information widely available, place these much maligned finned friends into situations that are stressful for either the fish, other aquarium residents, the aquarist, or in many cases, all three.

So why are they misunderstood? Because they look cute and adorable to every new aquarist. Schooling harems of 10-20 juveniles look SO nice in the retailer's shops. Shop owners instruct the newbie that these black- and white-striped fish, affectionately referred to as convicts (no warning sign there!), make great first additions. I suppose they do, theoretically, for the beginning aquarist. That is, until the cute, adorable fish stresses and kills all newcomers to the aquarium and escapes even the most valiant attempts at netting.

How can it be that a marine fish gets over-utilized? With rare exceptions, local fish stores continually push the sales of damsels as hardy beginner fish. They are indeed; there is no denying this. Few store owners, however, warn of their upcoming pitfalls. Rather than being the best first fish into an aquarium, damsels should be retailed as exactly what they are - fury in a small package.

Hopefully, the mistreatment of any marine organism is something that pains every aquarist. Categorically, there is no fish family that suffers more than the damsels at the hands of aquarists. As the first fish into an aquarium, damsels will see the rise and fall of ammonia, nitrite and nitrate - all of these reaching levels which would be lethal to the vast majority of marine ornamental organisms. Why does this remain a popular option?

Just as with any other fish family, damsels have their own niche. Given their hardiness, disease resistance and their non-fussy feeding requirements, these unique characteristics do give them a ticket for certain aquariums. For newcomers to the hobby, however, this ticket is best left unused.

Many thanks to Mark Kingery for his assistance on this project.
For more information on damsels, see Steven Pro's article here.

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