Marine Angelfish: Characteristics, Behavior and Species

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regal angelfish (Pygoplites diacanthus) in Ras Muhammad reef, Red Sea, Egypt

Angelfish are among the most colorful inhabitants of coral reefs. Their flamboyant colors and patterns often changes as the grow up from juveniles into adults. Marine angelfish are perciform fish of the family Pomacanthidae. They are found on shallow reefs in the tropical Atlantic, Indian, and mostly western Pacific Oceans. They should not be confused with the freshwater angelfish (Pterophyllum) tropical cichlids of the Amazon Basin. Both saltwater and freshwater angelfish are popular aquarium fish.

Marine angelfish were introduced to the United States as aquarium fish sometime in 1917. At first they were a rare fish, and highly valued. People paid a week’s worth of their salary for mating pair. Breeding was fraught with issues at first, but as time went breeders and hobbyists became better at it and successfully breed them in small numbers, mostly in silvery colors. In the 1980s, when commercial fish farming was becoming a bigger deal, fish farms in Florida were breeding different colors, species and sizes of angelfish. The Black Plague of 1989, caused a shut down of commercial fish farms, resulting in these fish being unavailable for a few years. The market has since rebounded and a variety of species can be found all around the world in tanks as well as in their natural marine environments. [Source: Wikipedia]

Members of the Pomacanthidae family were classified until fairly recently as butterfly fishes because they share many features "such as deep compressed bodies, ctenoid scales which extend out onto the median fins, a small mouth with brush-like teeth. Angelfish are mainly distinguished from butterflyfish by the presence of strong preopercle spines (part of the gill covers). former. This feature also explains the family name Pomacanthidae; from the Greek “poma” meaning "cover" and “akantha” meaning "thorn". Other differences between butterflyfish and anglefish include the presence of a snout in angelfish, a pelvic axillary process, and smaller spines on the opercle and preorbital. .[Source: Animal Diversity Web (ADW)]

Websites and Resources: Animal Diversity Web (ADW); National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); Fishbase ; Encyclopedia of Life ; Smithsonian Oceans Portal ; Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute ; Cousteau Society ; Monterey Bay Aquarium ; MarineBio

Angelfish Characteristics and Behavior

Emperor Angelfish (Pomocanthus imperator)

Known for their distinctive shape and often strikingly colourful markings, Angelfish are one of the more numerous species of reef fish. Among the characteristics that angelfish are known for are their inquisitive nature and tendency to be found in all levels of the upper reef, from the surface to the base of the area’s coral formations. The larger species are can be quite bold and seemingly fearless, and are known for approaching divers. Angelfish often produce a loud thumping noise when alarmed, enjoy being massaged by bubbles from emanating from a scuba diver's air hose. If the diver holds his breath angelfish will sometimes tap the diver's mask as if to ask "Why'd you stop?" [Source: Great Barrier]

Angelfish have a deep body that is flattened on the sides; a small mouth with comb-like teeth; and backward-pointing spines in each cheek. Unlike most fishes they have a digestive system strong enough to digest the tough flesh of sponges, which are plentiful on coral reefs. Patterns found on angelfish including thin, vivid stripes and multi-coloured speckled patterns. It is no surprise they are popular subjects for underwater photographers. All juveniles of the Indo-Pacific genus “Pomacanthus” have similar patterns made up of concentric lines when they are juveniles but as they develop each species develops characteristic markings.

The largest species, the gray angelfish (Pomacanthus arcuatus) may reach a length of 60 centimeters (24 inches). The smallest species, members of the genus Centropyge do not exceed 15 centimeters (5.9 inches). A length of 20 to 30 centimeters (7.9 to 11.8 in) is the usual size of most angelfish.

Many species of marine angelfishes have streamer-like extensions of the soft dorsal and anal fins.Adults are normally haremic; one male defends a territory with two to five females living with the male. They are usually found alone or in pairs in caves in the rocky/coral oceanic bottom

Angelfish Mating, Reproduction and Development

Blue ring angelfish teeth

Almost all angelfish are polygynous (males having more than one female as a mate at one time) and haremic, which means there is one male defending a territory with two to five females. They engage in year-round breeding and external reproduction in which sperm from the male fertilizes the female’s egg outside her body. The time to hatching ranges from 15 to 24 hours. The average time to hatching is 20 hours. There is no parental involvement in the raising of offspring. /=\

According to Animal Diversity Web: For members of the genus Pomacanthus, spawning normally begins with the onset of dusk and is thought to be triggered by the decrease in light. However it is not known whether there is a correlation between time of year or with the lunar cycle and the onset of spawning in angelfish. The adults have a courtship ritual that ends in the male and female slowly swimming toward the surface of the water and releasing eggs and sperm. The larvae then swim with the plankton for a month before continuing development. Spawning is thought to take place between only one male and one female at a time, but males possibly mate with more than one female with in the group.

The larvae hatch at sunset the day after the courtship ritual of the parents and swim with the plankton for a month before developing into juveniles. Their life cycle is characterized by metamorphosis — a process of development in which individuals change in shape or structure as they grow. /=\

Species of Angelfish

Most members of the angelfish family Pomacanthidae are found on shallow reefs in the tropical Atlantic, Indian, and mostly western Pacific Oceans. The family contains There are 88 species in eight genera (seven genera and about 86 species according to some sources). The eight genera are (with number of living species): 1) Pomacanthus, first described by Lacépède in 1802 (13); 2) Holacanthus, first described by Lacépède in 1803 (8); 3) Genicanthus,first described by Swainson in 1839 (10); 4) Centropyge Kaup, first described by Kaup Burton in 1860 (35); 5) Chaetodontoplus, first described by Bleeker in 1876 (13); 6) Pygoplites, first described by Fraser-Brunner in 1933 (1); 7) Apolemichthys,first described by Kaup M. Burton in 1934 (8); and Paracentropyge first described by W. E. Burgess in 1992 (1). [Source: Wikipedia]

Two-spined angelfish (Centropyge bispinosa)

The two-spined angelfish, (Centropage bispinosa) also known as the "coral beauty" or "dusky angelfish" has a vibrant blue or darkish purple body with a reddish-yellow underside that is usually covered in stripes, which can be purple, red and orange, and may even appear as spots. This fish is native to the Indo-Pacific Ocean, and usually found in shallow reefy waters but sometimes in deep waters. They feed on algae and hide in coral reefs and lagoons in the wild. The Two-spined angelfish usually reaches a length of 8 centimeters (3 inches) and have a rounded caudal fin.

Emperor angelfish live in harem groups. If the dominant males dies one of his harem will change sex and become the dominant male. When they are juvenile they are dark with concentric wavy circles of white lines. Adults have alternating yellow and purple oblique stripes on their body and light, dark blue and black markings around their head and pectoral fins.

The Moorish, idol a beautiful black, white and yellow striped angelfish that eats sponges, was once considered sacred to some Muslims. The blue angelfish (Pomacanthus semicirculatus) is a vibrant, electric blue in color with black and white stripes and sometimes spots as a juvenile. It turns a grayish color with dark spots and sometimes yellow and blue accents as an adult. They live in stony and soft corals and are more likely to be found in vibrantly colored corals as juveniles. Reaching lengths of 40 centimeters and live up to 25 years, they rarely travel in schools and tend to hide from predators in dark areas. Their dorsal and pelvic fin help give them speed and acceleration to make quick escapes. Their bright blue may alert predators that they are toxic them. to predators. .

Queen Angelfish

Queen angelfish (Scientific name: Holacanthus ciliaris) are also known as the golden angelfish or; yellow angelfish. They are tropical fish found in coral reefs in the western Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, and the Atlantic Ocean as far south as Brazil. They are typically found at depths up to 70 meters (230 feet). They do not migrate are found primarily found in coral reefs, which provide shelter and abundant food sources. Although they are naturally marine fish, queen angelfish can tolerate changes in salinity. For this reason, and because of their beautiful coloration as both juveniles and adults,. they are popular aquarium fish. [Source: O. Omodele Ajagbe, Animal Diversity Web (ADW) /=]

Queen angelfish (Holacanthus ciliaris)

Queen angelfishes feed on sponges, corals and other small invertebrates such as tunicates, jellyfish, hydroids and bryozoans. They may also eat plankton and algae. In turn they are preyed upon by larger fish and animals that inhabit coral reefs. Humans utilize them for the pet trade. Queen angelfish are considered a species of least concern by the ICUN. Populations are globally stable, although they are harvested in high numbers near Brazil. In the 1990s in Florida, queen angelfish sold for between US$11.16 and $17.84 per fish wholesale. Retail prices at that time varied with size and ranged between US$60 and $130. Adult mating pairs fetched the highest prices.

Queen Angelfish Characteristics and Behavior

On average queen angelfish weigh 1.6 kilograms (3.52 pounds) and have an average length is 45 centimeters (17.72 inches). Males are larger than females. According to Animal Diversity Web: They are easily distinguished by their striking coloration, with vibrant yellow accents and variations of gem-like blues. Their distinctive "crown" is speckled dark blue and surrounded by a ring of bright blue. Their tail is yellow. Juveniles have a markedly different coloration than adults, displaying a striped blue and yellow pattern or a solid yellow pattern. [Source: O. Omodele Ajagbe, Animal Diversity Web (ADW) /=]

The body of queen angelfish is very flat, with an elongated, continuous dorsal and anal fin with 9 to 15 spines and 15 to 17 soft rays. They have a strong spine at the angle of the preopercle (cheek bone) and lack a well developed pelvic axillary process (fleshy bump at the base of the pelvic fin)./=\

Queen angelfish often travel alone or in pairs. Harems have been observed prior to mating, consisting of one male and 4 to five females. When placed in aquariums, queen angelfish are very aggressive. Little information is available regarding the home range of queen angelfish. They communicate with vision and sense using vision, touch and chemicals usually detected with smell. During mating, tey communicate through temporary changes in color. /=\

Queen Angelfish Reproduction, Development and Offspring

Queen anglefish are polygynous (males having more than one female as a mate at one time). Harems have been observed during courtship and pre-spawning. They engage in seasonal breeding and engage in external reproduction in which sperm from the male fertilizes the female’s egg outside her body. [Source: O. Omodele Ajagbe, Animal Diversity Web (ADW) /=]

Queen angelfish (Holacanthus ciliaris)

Queen anglefish are oviparous (young are hatched from eggs) and iteroparous (offspring are produced in groups). Spawning peaks once a year, but queen angelfish may spawn more than once during the year. Seasonal spawning occurs during the winter in Puerto Rico. The time to hatching ranges from 15 to 20 hours. Queen angelfish employ broadcast (group) spawning, the main mode of reproduction in the sea. It involves the release of both eggs and sperm into the water and contact between sperm and egg and fertilization occur externally. There is no parental involvement in parenting. /=\

According to Animal Diversity Web: “ Harems generally consist of one male and up to 4 females. A male courts a female by displaying his pectoral fins, flicking them outward every few seconds. The female then ascends in the water, and the male positions himself below the female. The male touches his snout to her vent (genital) area, rising with the female with his belly close to hers. As the pair rises to about 18 meters in depth, they release eggs and sperm./=\

Spawning behavior has been observed within minutes of sunset during the evening. Females can produce 25,000 to 75,000 eggs in one evening. After fertilization eggs of queen angelfish float in the water column for 15 to 20 hours, and develop into transparent larvae. After they hatch larvae absorb the yolk sac from their eggs in the next 48 hours. Larvae feed on plankton and grow rapidly, reaching a size of 15 to 20 millimeters in their juvenile form. Juvenile queen angelfish find protection among colonies of finger sponges and corals at the bottom of reefs. Juveniles resemble adults.

Blue Ring Angelfish

Blue ring angelfish (Scientific name:Pomacanthus annularis) are also known as ringed angelfish. Typically found at depths of three to 30 meters (10 to 98.4 feet) at an average depth of 5-15 meters (16.4 to 49 feet), they live in in tropical waters in the Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean ranging from Sri Lanka to the Solomon Islands and from the Philippines to the northern tip of Australia. Some large angelfish, such as the blue ring angelfish have been recorded to live up to 25 years in an aquarium [Source: Abigail Brackney, Animal Diversity Web (ADW) /=]

blue ring angelfish

Blue ring angelfish live around coastal rocky coral reefs and other hard bottom coastal areas. In their natural habitat the adults are normally found in waters from 5 to 30 meters deeper. Juveniles are usually occupy the upper range of the adults and sometimes are in even shallower water. When kept as aquarium fish, the optimal temperature is 26 degrees Celsius (79 degrees F) with a pH of eight and lots of light. /=\

Blue ring angelfish are omnivorous, eating benthic (living on or near the bottom of the sea) invertebrates such as zooplankton, sponges, tunicates and coral polyps. They also eat ascidians, algae, weeds, and nektonic fishes. Humans utilize them for the pet trade. They are exported from Sri Lanka to the U.S. and Europe. They are not endangered (International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List: Least Concern; Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES): No special status).

Blue Ring Angelfish Characteristics, Development and Behavior

Blue ring angelfish range in length from 20 to 45 centimeters (7.87 to 17.72 inches), with their average length being 30.5 centimeters (12.01 inches). Adults are a dark orange to brown color with white caudal fin, grow up to 30.5 centimeters (12 inches) in length, head to caudal fin and are monomorphic between sexes. According to Animal Diversity Web: Soft dorsal spine rays, numbering 20-21 are at times longer than normal so that they extend further than the rest of the dorsal spine rays. There are also 13 dorsal spines with the dorsal fins being continuous, three anal spines and 20 soft anal rays.

Adult bluering angelfish have blue, horizontal curved lines that extend from the back of the head/pelvic fin area to the dorsal and caudal fins. Also there are two blue stripes that cross the face, one through the eye and the other below. Finally, the blue ring (where it gets its common name) is above and behind the operculum

Bluering angelfish sense using touch and chemicals usually detected with smell. They can often be found in caves at night or swimming for food during the day in pairs or alone Like almost all angelfish they are probably haremic. The territory defended by males can be from the size of a bathroom to the size of a two-car garage.

blue ring angelfish

Bluering angelfish do not reproduce well in captivity because the larvae are unable to survive. The fish are considered protogynous hermaphrodites, meaning at the beginning of life all are females. Then as development continues the larger fish become males. During development dramatic changes occur in coloration patterns as juveniles change into adults. According to Animal Diversity Web: The juveniles start out with alternating, vertical blue and white stripes on a black background. This coloration pattern is similar to all large angelfish and Blue ring angelfish juveniles often are misidentified as whitetail damselfish (P. chrysurus). However, the caudal fin is transparent in blue ring angelfish but is yellow in P. chrysurus. Then as they mature into adults, the vertical blue and white stripes disappear, the caudal fin whitens, and the background becomes a dark orange to brown. Horizontal, curved blue lines also appear and run from the back of the head/pelvic fin area to the caudal and dorsal fins.

Potter's Angefishl

Potter's angelfish (Scientific name: Centropyge potteri) is a pygmy angelfish also known as Russet angelfish). Their lifespan in the wild is typically five to seven years, shorter than their larger relatives. Potter’s angel is endemic to the Hawaiian islands and Johnston's atoll between 30 and 17 degrees north latitude. They inhabit coral reef ecosystems and They are typically found at depths of at least 4.5 meters (15 feet) [Source: Anna Frostic, Animal Diversity Web (ADW) /=]

The diet of Potter's angel consists of benthic algae, living on reefs or sea bottoms, cnidarians, and tunicates. Individuals use their many comblike teeth to pull food items off of hard reef surfaces.

Potter's angelfish (Centropyge potteri)

They are primarily carnivores (mainly eat meat or animal parts) eats other marine invertebrates. They can also be herbivores (primarily eat plants or plants parts), algivore (eats algae, often a filter feeder), omnivores (eats a variety of things, including plants and animals), Animal foods include cnidarians other marine invertebrates. Among the plant foods they eat are algae

Their main known predators of the Potter’s angel is the Bluefin trevally (Caranx melampygus). The main anti-predator strategy that the small angelfish uses is to hide within finger coral crevices and remain inactive at night. Its narrow body also allows for fast swimming and darting motions to escape predators

Potter’s angel are sought out by divers and snorkelers in Hawaii and kept as a pets. They are not regarded as endangered (International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List: Least Concern; Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES): No special status) but the coral reef ecosystems where they live are under threat and it is important to not take too many individuals for the pet trade. /=\

Potter's Angel Characteristics, Behavior and

The average length of the Potter's angel is 10 centimeters (4 inches). Individuals are orange with narrow, black, vertical stripes and a blue lining of the dorsal, anal and caudal fins. Unlike most other pygmy angelfish, Potter's angelfish has a preopercular spine (a boomerang-shaped spine on the lateral line reaching beyond the posterior margin).

Potter’s angel is a solitary species that only interacts with its other members of its species during courtship. It remains awake but inactive at night, and spends most of its time during the day foraging. Individuals are very territorial and therefore stay close to their coral crevice homes. They communicate with sound and sense using touch and chemicals usually detected with smell. Laboratory studies have detected a quiet chirping sound that is emitted during courtship, The purpose of this noise is unclear.

The Potter’s angel is a protogynous species, which means that most individuals begin their lives as small females, and then change into males when they become large enough to control a harem of two to seven females and maintain a breeding territory for reproduction. This sex inversion occurs over two to three weeks.

Potter’s angels engage in external reproduction in which sperm from the male fertilizes the female’s egg outside her body. The breeding season is Mid-December through May, with spawning taking place a week before full moon at dusk There is no parental involvement in the raising of offspring. /=\

A single male maintains a harem in his territory and will fertilize the eggs of several females within a single spawning season. Males must be large enough to control a harem and territory and secure breeding rights. Males visit haremic females near their reef and display courtship by swimming around the females in circles and then each individual simultaneously releases its gametes into the water, where fertilization occurs.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons; YouTube, Animal Diversity Web, NOAA

Text Sources: Animal Diversity Web (ADW); National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); Wikipedia, National Geographic, Live Science, BBC, Smithsonian, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker, Reuters, Associated Press, Lonely Planet Guides and various books and other publications.

Last Updated March 2023

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