Diet, Size, Reproduction and Teeth

Diet, Size, Reproduction and Teeth

Quick Facts

Scientific Name: Balistes vetula
Other Names:
 Old Wife Fish, Caribbean Triggerfish, and Turbot
Reef Safe:
7 years
9 to 12 inches with a maximum of 24 inches
Carnivore. Likes live, frozen, and flake foods
Water Parameters:
 72 to 78°F, 8.1 or 8.4 pH, 8 to 12 dKH, 1.020 to 1.025 SG
Tank Size:
500 Gallons (1893L)
Breeding Difficulty:
Very difficult due to spatial needs

We hope you are ready to learn about the amazing and moody Queen Triggerfish. This fish has some beautiful coloration and even comes with a siren to scare fish away!

Its beauty comes with a challenging temperament since it is quite aggressive and has sharp teeth to bite and break shells. Its aggression increases during spawning season so let’s get started to make sure you are ready to handle this Queen!

Species Summary

Known scientifically as Balistes vetula, the tenacious Queen Triggerfish has a reputation for biting snorkelers and divers without provocation! In the wild, the queen trigger fish has a wide habitat range that encompasses the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. The species is sometimes spotted in pockets throughout the Bahamas and Caribbean. 

It’s not uncommon to spot these colorful, oval-shaped fish darting in and out of rocky spots and coral areas in the waters off of Massachusetts, Brazil, Ascension, Angola, and Cape Verde at depths of around 9 feet to 100 feet. Queen Triggerfish are sometimes referred to under the alternative names of Old Wife Fish, Caribbean Triggerfish, and Turbot. 

Author Note: One fascinating tidbit about the Queen Triggerfish is that it has a special membrane found just below the pectoral fins that produces an audible throbbing sound that acts as a “warning siren” for other fish to stay away!

Once you get past the vivacious personality, the Queen Triggerfish is generally an easy fish to keep due to its innate hardiness.


The first thing that’s noticeable about the Queen Triggerfish is its stunning and distinctive coloration. Orange-yellow coloring on the head, abdomen, and lower portion is layered with greenish-blueish tones that are strongest along the back. Beautiful blue bands and rings across the body make it seem as though this fish is adorned in neon jewelry! There’s also a continuous blue ring outlining the mouth.

When stressed, the Queen Triggerfish can slightly alter its coloration to blend in with the surrounding marine environment. Males are generally larger and more colorful compared to females. The dorsal and caudal (tail) fins of males tend to thin out more dramatically with age.

It’s not just coloration that makes this fish a memorable sight! Queen Triggerfish have large, jagged teeth that are ideal for breaking shells. These animated teeth can give a fish a very human-like appearance from a head-on angle.


The average lifespan of a Queen Triggerfish is seven years. Living to 13 years is possible when the right conditions are maintained in a home aquarium.

Average Size

Queen Triggerfish have an average size of 9 to 11 inches in maturity. Most are slightly longer than 11 inches. However, some record-making members of this species have grown close to 24 inches long.

This meaty fish often weighs up to 12 pounds so make sure your aquarium has strong enough supports. 

Queen Triggerfish Care

Like all aquarium fish, Queen Triggerfish can experience dramatic fluctuations in health and well-being based on the environments in their tanks. Here’s a look at the tank requirements when keeping Queen Triggerfish.

Tank Size

Make space for a Queen Triggerfish! Most experts agree that the recommended tank size for Queen Triggerfish to thrive is 500-gallon. Go this big if it’s possible! Many tank keepers do report that they successfully keep this fish in 200-gallon to 300-gallon tanks.

Water Parameters

  • Water temperature: 72 to 78°F
  • pH levels: 8.1 or 8.4
  • Water hardness: 8 to 12 dKH
  • Specific gravity: 1.020 to 1.025

Tank Setup

As avid underwater hunters, Queen Triggerfish appreciate nothing more than space to roam as they live out their urges to explore to find their next meal! Queen Triggerfish also requires plenty of live rock for exploring and gnawing. In fact, having plenty of matter to gnaw on is important due to the fact that a Queen Triggerfish’s teeth will become painfully overgrown if they aren’t able to wear them down using sponges, rocks, and similar items.

Author Note: One pro tip is to keep all wires and tubing out of the tank to avoid waking up to discover that these incessant gnawers have created a big mess!

Queen Triggerfish appreciate crevices and caves that can be used as hiding spots when retiring at night. Be sure to choose options that provide wide openings for this fish to “wedge” inside for the night. Lastly, as messy, active carnivores, Queen Triggerfish can make tanks untidy pretty quickly. A strong filtration system is recommended with this species.

Are Queen Triggerfish Reef Safe?

No! Queen Triggerfish are not reef safe at all. The obsessive chewing and gnawing habits of the Queen Triggerfish make this fish a bad choice for reefs. No invertebrate will be safe when this fish is in town.

When adding Queen Triggerfish to tanks with crabs and shrimps, expect to see little victims being picked off one at a time until none remain. The final verdict is that Queen Triggerfish strictly belong in fish-only tanks.

Common Possible Diseases & Prevention

The notoriously hardy Queen Triggerfish has an Achilles heel in the form of parasitic infestations like Cryptocaryon irritans or Marine Ich. This disease is common in aquariums but not in the wild because the chances of a fish being in contact with a large amount of these parasites is very low. 

The way to tell if your Queen Triggerfish is infected is by noticing white spots along its fines, skins or gills. There are many methods outhere to get rid of this disease and the most effective is to quarantine your fish in another tank for about 4 weeks to let the parasites die. You can also speed up the process by treating your aquarium with medications, hypo salinity, ultraviolet (UV) sterilization and even by increasing the water temperature.

Author Note: The most important and efficient thing to do is to always quarantine any new addition to look for signs of illness before integration. 

Food & Diet

As enthusiastic carnivores, Queen Triggerfish enjoy a varied diet that consists of live, frozen, and flake foods several times per day. Feeding times should correspond with the fish’s awake hours to ensure that no food is wasted while the Queen Triggerfish is sleepily wedged into a crevice. Mussels, squid, krill, shrimp, and chopped fish are just some of the meaty morsels enjoyed by this species. 

Author Note: One of its favorite meals are sea urchins which they flip around by creating water currents and exposing the short spines they love eating. 

Queen triggerfish love eating these sea urchins

While queen trigger fish are often spotted nibbling on naturally occurring macroalgae growing in the tank, this should not be considered an adequate food source. There’s no reason for tank owners to stop this behavior. However, it’s important to remember that algae snacks aren’t effective for helping to keep the fast-growing teeth of Queen Triggerfish tamed. Harder snacks and toys must be provided to help prevent dental problems even if it appears that the fish is content with algae.

Behavior & Temperament

The Queen Triggerfish has a reputation for thinking with its teeth instead of its brain. What this means is that the fish is an aggressive and opportunistic “biter” that will often chew before thinking. This is why tank owners need to keep wires and tubing out of reach if they own Queen Triggerfish. The same goes for shelled animals that serve as tempting live “tooth files” for this fish.

Even human fingers aren’t safe when there’s a Queen Triggerfish in the tank. It’s very common for tank owners to be bitten by this fish when reaching inside a tank for maintenance and cleaning. Protective gloves are advised!

That’s not to say that Queen Triggerfish are cruel, cold fish that don’t bond with their owners. Many tank keepers find that they are able to develop fulfilling and interactive relationships with this fish when the right boundaries are kept. Queen Triggerfish are much less likely to be aggressive if they are being given the space and nutrition needed to thrive.

Queen Triggerfish Tank Mates & Predators

Keeping a school of Queen Triggerfish is possible in mammoth-sized tanks that are usually only feasible for commercial enterprises. Most common tank keepers instead add Queen Triggerfish to tanks with compatible fish. There’s a twist here.

Queen Triggerfish are likely to become aggressive with just about any fish that is added to a tank that they are already living in. For this reason, tank owners need to be very intentional when planning tanks with Queen Triggerfish. The trick is to always add a Queen Triggerfish last to any tank environment. There’s a second part to this trick for creating harmony.

A Queen Triggerfish should always be the smallest fish in the tank! Generally, experienced tank keepers like to pair their Queen Triggerfish with other semi-aggressive and aggressive fish. The list of the best potential tank mates for Queen Triggerfish includes:

While it’s good to keep Queen Triggerfish in check by pairing them with aggressive tank mates, there is a limit to how far you can take this school of thought. Queen Triggerfish actually have a vulnerability that’s caused by their frilly, flowing tail filaments. 

Author Note: Some aggressive fish species will attack the fish after being tempted by the flowing movements of their tails in the water. Tank mates that are considered too aggressive to be safe companions for Queen Triggerfish include groupers and sharks.


The big disclaimer with the topic of queen triggerfish reproduction is that this is simply impossible for the average hobbyist. First, the spatial needs of this fish make keeping more than one difficult for someone who lacks access to a commercial-sized tank. Secondly, the Queen Triggerfish has a spawning ritual that’s as complicated as it is fascinating. This is why most pet Queen Triggerfish that you can buy in a store are true wild-caught fish instead of fish that have been bred commercially in captivity.

Sexing Queen Triggerfish isn’t the hard part. Males are identified fairly easily by their larger, longer filaments. They also grow to be much brighter during spawning seasons to attract their female mates. Anyone seeking to breed Queen Triggerfish needs to wait until fish have reached adult sizes before procuring them in order to confirm the sex of each fish using visual cues. It’s quite easy to mistake a juvenile queen triggerfish male for a female.

We summarized the process during spawning season in four steps as follows: 

  1. Males conduct extensive mating rituals to gain the attention of females. 
  2. Females work on hollowing out nests in the sand by fanning their pectoral fins. 
  3. Eggs are laid in the nest in order to be fertilized by the male.
  4. Male and female Queen Triggerfish work together to guard the territory around the nest. 

Please note that both will grow extremely aggressive during this time. Consider mating season biting season for anyone who comes close to the territories being guarded by these fish!

Wrapping Up

Queen Triggerfish have some amazing looks that will definitely add lots of color to your aquarium. This does not come for free since their aggressive temperament will make you work hard to ensure the environment and tank mates don’t get in trouble. 

We hope this guide provided the knowledge you were looking for to properly care for your Queen Triggerfish. Don’t forget we have several other Saltwater Care Guides and a Facebook in case you want to tag us when sharing cool photos of your aquarium. Best of luck!

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