This beautiful photo taken by Toshio Tsubota shows the cherry blossom basslet in its natural habitat off of Osezaki. It typically is not encountered on these reef slopes until you reach a depth of 30 m and is not common until you reach much greater depths.
The cherry blossom basslet (Sacura margaritacea) is a member of the family Serranidae and the subfamily Anthiinae. It is deeper-bodied member of the anthias group and have thread-like filaments that extent from the dorsal and the caudal fins (these are especially elongate in male specimens). It reaches a maximum length of about 15 cm.
The cherry blossom basslet is distributed from southern Japan to south to Taiwan. If you look at its range, you can see that it is found in more northern regions than most of the coral reef fishes we see at the local aquarium stores. I have seen many of these fish on rocky reefs off Osezaki, Japan. Here it is found at depths of 13 to over 50 m on current-prone, rocky reef slopes. It often moves among or above long whip corals or can also be found hanging under overhangs or at the mouth of caves (juveniles are more likely to be found in caves). Adults of this species are often found at depths of 40 m. It tends to occur in shoals, consisting of many females and a single male. It sometimes forms mixed groups with other anthias (e.g., elongate anthias [Pseudanthias elongatus] and the anthias [P. fasciatus]). Like other anthias, S. margaritacea feeds on zooplankton. To catch their prey, these fish move high into the water column to feed. Like other members of the subfamily, they are protogynous hermaphrodites. That is, males result from female sex change. The males are the most dominant individuals in the shoal.
The male cherry blossom basslet is a spectacular fish that is becoming more available in the aquarium trade, although it still commands a high price.
I have reliable information from Japanese aquarist (namely aquarist Hiroyuki Tanaka) and from Kevin Kohen (the fish expert and manager at liveaquaria.com - see link to right) who also has experience with Sacura, that this fish is quite hardy. It is also often seen on display in Japanese public aquariums because of its beautiful appearance, as well as its hardiness.
First thing to consider is temperature of the aquarium. As mentioned above, this fish is typically found at cooler water temperatures. At Osezaki, the summer time temperature at a depth from the surface to about 30 m is from 22 to 26 degrees Celsius. There is a sharp thermocline below 30 m, where water temperature drops to as cold as 16 C in the summer and 11 degrees Celsius in the winter! As far as aquarium temperature is concerned, S. margaritacea should be kept at 18 to 25 degrees Celsius (Japanese aquarists prefer to keep them at the lower end of this range).
All anthias should be fed frequently, as they spend most of their day in the water column picking off zooplanktors. If you find your Sacura is a bit finicky, try feeding it young livebearers (e.g., guppies, mollies) or live ghost shrimp. They will usually take foods like frozen mysid, chopped table shrimp or bite-sized pieces of marine fish flesh. Kevin tells me that a male cherry blossom basslet may become dominant over smaller fish tankmates, occasionally nudging them to assert their position in the hierarchy. But they are rarely so aggressive toward heterospecifics that they cause them harm. It will eat fish that are small enough to swallow whole. Adults should be housed in a tank of at least 135 gallons and may acclimate more readily if kept in a dimly-lit aquarium. Also, avoid placing more than one male in the same tank.
This fish commands a high price for two main reasons. First of all, not that many fish are imported from Japan to the US (or any other country for that matter). They are also found at moderate depths and require special handling techniques to help avoid problems with decompression. So, unavailability and the greater time required to capture this fish means more money per fish.
©2008 Scott W. Michael