Meet the schooling coachman (Heniochus diphreutes)! Some of you may have seen these fish at the Two Oceans Aquarium before - temporarily homed in the I&J Ocean Exhibit during the holidays, or the small one sharing the tropical cylinder with other reef-dwellers in the Skretting Diversity Gallery. But, this school of colourful newcomers finally has a home of its own!
What is a schooling coachman?
The schooling coachman is a large butterflyfish, with a white body, two large black vertical bands and bright yellow pectoral and tail fins. It also has a black bar running between its eyes - it looks like it is wearing sunglasses!
As the name indicates, this fish lives in large schools - preferring cool waters in the tropical Indo-Pacific (yes, it has weird water preferences) where they prey on tiny zooplankton - microscopic animals that their hair-like teeth can filter out of the water.
Their resemblance to Moorish idols (Zanclus cornutus), another popular aquarium fish, is uncanny. Because it is more abundant than the Moorish idol, and lacks some of the "pizazz", it is formally known as a "false" or "poor man's" Moorish idol in some parts of the world.
Where in the Aquarium can I see one?
The schooling coachman can be found in their own display at the far end of the Skretting Diversity Gallery - opposite the giant spider crab exhibit. We think they are enjoying their new home - and they are slowly being joined by some unusual tankmates (which you are going to have to discover for yourself).
Why were they moved?
The schooling coachman at the Two Oceans Aquarium arrived here from uShaka Sea World in late 2017, and after a time in quarantine, they were added to the large I&J Ocean Exhibit.
Unfortunately, the did not get along well with the other fish (but it's not their fault). Juvenile schooling coachman act as cleaner fish, picking parasites and bits of dead tissue off of larger fish species. This behaviour is also seen in some populations of adults, although this behaviour is unusual as adults prefer to hunt zooplankton.
Our shoal of coachman seems to have retained this juvenile "cleaner" behaviour, and because their school is so large, their over-zealous cleaning became a nuisance to the large animals in the exhibit - notably the giant guitarfish, short-tail stingrays and honeycomb stingray, which need to maintain a protective layer of mucus over their scales.
At the Aquarium we do our best to take care of the needs and preferences of each animal and are glad to be able to share the schooling coachman's new home with you - one that is both visually stunning and in the best interest of the animals in our care.
If you'd like to learn more about the more than 3 000 animals that call the Aquarium home, or about how we care for them, feel free to engage with us on social media - or even better, feel free to chat to our staff on your next visit!