ORA’s team of biologists have been spawning and rearing Amphiprion rubrocinctus for approximately 15 years. Or at least we thought. . . These fish we affectionately call “Rubies” appear similar to the common Tomato Clownfish (Amphiprion frenatus), except they have a taller body profile and maintain a fairly uniform orange-red coloration throughout their lifetime.
Like all of ORA’s original broodstock, our Ruby pairs came from Aqualife Research Corporation in Walkers Cay, Bahamas. We received them sometime in 1996-1997 when the facility was shutting down. The complete history of our Ruby pairs could not be determined with absolute certainty but we do know they were collected from the wild and had been at Aqualife since 1993.
In 1972 Gerald Allen grouped reddish-orange colored clownfish from Fiji, Tonga and Samoa with Amphiprion rubrocinctus (Allen, 1972). A subsequent publication by Allen in 1980 determined that the distribution of A. rubrocinctus was limited to Western Australia and that these South Pacific Island fish were color variants of Amphiprion melanopus, the Cinnamon Clown (Allen, 1980). The misidentification was already well entrenched in the aquarium hobby however, and these fish were still referred to as A. rubrocinctus and sold under the common names Australian, Fiji Tomato or Ruby Clownfish.
Nearly 20 years later Gerald Allen, Joshua Drew and Les Kaufman described these fish as a distinct species, Amphiprion barberi (2008). They concluded that A. barberi are found in Fiji and western Polynesia while A. rubrocinctus are found off northwestern Australia, with the two species’ populations being geographically separated between the distributions of A. melanopus (Allen et al., 2008 ).
The aquarium hobby, including ORA, has been slow to catch up with the name change. Just to be certain, we decided to contact Joshua Drew, one of the authors of the paper describing A. barberi, and made plans to have some of our “Ruby” clownfish sent off for genetic analysis. Joshua was eager to help with identifying our clownfish and he reported to us that the species we have is indeed A. barberi.
Whatever you have been calling them, Ruby, Australian, or Fiji Tomato clownfish have been a staple in the trade for decades but it turns out they have all been misidentified. It is possible that the real A. rubrocinctus has never even been in the US aquarium trade before!
So if you have one of our “Ruby” clowns swimming in your tank, take note that its taxonomic identity is in fact A. barberi.
Allen, Gerald R., The Anemonefishes, their classification and biology. Neptune City: Tropical Fish Hobbyist Publications, 1972. Print.
Allen, Gerald R., Anemonefishes of the World. Mentor: Aquarium Systems, 1980. Print.
Allen, Gerald R., Joshua Drew, and Les Kaufman. “Amphiprion Barberi, a New Species of Anemonefish (Pomacentridae) from Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa.” Aqua, International Journal of Ichthyology 14.3 (2008): 105-14. Print.