My reason for getting into this hobby in the first place was the allure of stunning rainbow hued marine fish swimming around in my home (well, actually in the tank at my home…;). The most beautiful fish family in the ocean (the same one that attracted me to the hobby in the first place) is the Angelfish or to be technical; fish of the family Pomacanthidae.

The "Emperor" of the ocean

The “Emperor” of the ocean

Angels of the ocean…

The Angelfish are stunningly beautiful, strikingly patterned, intelligent, feisty and majestic fish. They have vibrant laterally compressed bodies and are named for the spines over part of their gill covers (Pomacanthidae means “spine cover” in greek). They are similar looking in form to the Butterflyfishes but are not related, the gill cover spine differentiates these similar shaped fish.

Marine Angelfish are thought by many (including me) to be the most stunning fish family in the ocean. They are the most sought after “centre piece” fish for aquariums, have interesting personalities and are sure to add colour and interest to your tank.

What you can expect from an Angelfish…

An Angelfish is likely to become the boss of your tank, and are highly sought after for their colourful beauty, so often become the “spotlight” species; the focal point in the saltwater system they are in. Larger Fish-only set ups and FOWLR’s of over 220 gallons are often set up around a large marine Angel such as an Emperor Angelfish (Pomacanthus imperator), a Queen Angelfish (Holocanthus ciliaris) or maybe a Koran Angelfish (Pomacanthus semicirculatus). Smaller fish focused tanks are often centred around a dwarf Angelfish such as the Bicolor Angelfish (Centropyge bicolour), the Coral Beauty (Centropyge bispinosa) or maybe the popular Flame Angelfish (Centropyge loriculus).

Most marine Angelfish are from the reef shallows (less than 50 metres deep) in the western Pacific, Indian or Atlantic oceans and spend the night hiding themselves away in holes and crevices so need plenty of rockwork to feel safe in your tank. Large genuses of Angelfish can reach up to 50cm while the dwarf Angelfish (of the genus Centropyge) doesn’t grow bigger than 15cm.

Flame Dwarf Angelfish

Flame Dwarf Angelfish

Another cool feature of marine Angelfish is the drastic change in coloration that takes place in many species as they grow from juvenile to adult. For example take the Emperor Angel; the juvenile is black with circular blue and white stripes and the adult is blue with yellow stripes and tail and a black mask outlined in fluorescent blue. This means you may purchase a juvenile that will be dazzling but it will grow into a stunning adult with completely different markings and colours! This visual change with age is thought to correspond to social rank.

Most experts say you should only keep one Angelfish per tank, but that said a huge tank with a lot of rockwork could house a few specimens, I have even heard of an Angelfish community tank. The reason for “one per tank” is that in the wild they are solitary fish except when they are part of a mated pair. This means in an aquarium environment they can be territorial and defend their turf with aggression towards especially other Angels of the same genus but also fish similarly sized and shaped. Angelfish usually end up as the dominant fish in a tank.

Which Angelfish to choose???

Most Angelfish are stunning, but some species do really well in captivity and lots have some of the worst survival records around…

There are 87 species in seven genera of marine Angelfish that all range dramatically in terms of aquarium suitability and ease of care in captive systems. This is mostly due to different genera dealing with the traumas of capture, transport and handling differently as well as some having diets difficult to cater to in home systems, for example those Angelfish that feed exclusively on sponges and tunicates.

The best Angelfish Genuses for saltwater aquariums are:

Pygmy Angelfish

Pygmy Angelfish

–         The dwarf or pygmy Angelfish (Centropyge): which are good for smaller systems, but should still be kept one to a tank. Primarily feed on filamentous algae.

–         Chaetodontoplus: this genus of 10 species are quite expensive, semi-aggressive and have a mediocre survivability. My personal favourite of this genus is the Blueline Angelfish (Chaetodontoplus septentrionalis).

–         Pomacanthus species: shy when they first get introduced to a tank, this genus soon will feel at home and grow big (so make sure you have a lot of space for them!), need a daily dose of greens for optimal health. This genus includes the Emperor and Koran Angelfish.

–         Holacanthus: hardy and the most suitable Angelfish for home aquariums. This genus needs a lot of greens for optimal health. The queen Angelfish is the most popular example of this genus.


Personally I feel other genuses of Angelfish should be avoided (there are a few species in the other genuses that can be suitable for captive life) in general either because of their specific fussy diets or because they simply don’t fare well in captive environments.

Saltwater Aquarium Advice