Angels of the Deep

The Pomacanthid family is arguably the most well-loved family in the marine hobby. The name is a derivation of two latin words; Pom, which means “cover” and acanthus, which means “spine”. This name is a reference to a feature shared by all members of the family; a spine on the gill cover. Sadly, many of these beautiful fish are tank busters, and many fish keepers are unable to keep them properly. The family consists of 7 genera and a total of 74 species and range in size from 5.5cm all the way to 60cm. Many hobbyists purchase members of this family as beautiful juveniles. Unfortunately, a large number of the larger angels are not nearly as attractive as adults as they are as young. There are a few exceptions to this, but generally this does hold true for the large angels. The Dwarf Angles do not suffer this same fate as most of them remain beautiful and colorful throughout their entire lifespan.

The Apolemichthys Genus


Containing 9 species, the Apolemichthys genus is the third smallest genus in the family with many of the species rare in the wild. This genus of Angels is not extremely common in the aquarium trade, and for a couple of good reasons. First of all, and most importantly, most members of the Apolemichthys genus are virtually impossible to properly feed for any length of time in captivity due to their specialized diets. The most popular member of this genus is A. trimaculatus – Flagfin Angelfish (aka Threespot Angelfish) however it’s diet is consistent with most members of the genus. The Flagfin Angel is a sponge eater that rarely adapts to to eating captive foods, and most starve within a few weeks of being introduced. For this reason, many of these fish simply cannot be recommended for the hobby.


Many of these fish are rare in the wild, and as such as many as possible need to be left there.


The only 2 members of this genus that can be recommended to the hobby, are A. xanthurus – Indian Yellowtail Angelfish, and A. xanthotis – Yellow-Ear Angelfish. Both of these species have diets that are suitable for hobbyists to maintain, and both reach a length of only 20cm.


Members of the Apolemichthys genus:

Apolemichthys arcuatus – Banded Angelfish

Apolemichthys armitagei – Armitage Angelfish

Apolemichthys griffisi – Griffis Angelfish

Apolemichthys guezei – Reunion Angelfish

Apolemichthys kingi – Tiger Angelfish

Apolemichthys trimaculatus – Threespot Angelfish (aka Flagfin Angelfish)

Apolemichthys xanthopunctatus – Goldspotted Angelfish

Apolemichthys xanthotis – Yellow-ear Angelfish

Apolemichthys xanthurus – Yellowtail Angelfish


The Centropyge Genus


Without a doubt, this is the most popular genus of fish in the marine aquarium hobby. These fish rarely exceed 15cm in length, and as such they are a popular choice for aquariums that are 30-55 gallons. This is the largest genus in the Pomacanthid family with 34 species. Many of the members of this genus are suitable for the home aquarium and are available commercially. However there are a couple to be avoided, and a few that are either extremely rare in the hobby, or non-existent in the hobby.


Dietary requirements for this genus is virtually the same for all species contained therein. The Centropyge species are omnivorous and enjoy a very balanced and varied diet. Mysid shrimp, Spirulina, and algae comprise the largest parts of the fish’s daily diet, and as such, when kept in the home aquarium a diet containing these things should be offered. These fish are given to grazing on algae, and when none is available in the home aquarium, dried Nori should be offered.


There is much debate as to the safety of these fish in a reef tank. While most reef keepers do not experience any issues with these fish nipping at coral polyps, they can be unpredictable and this experience could easily vary with individual specimens. If the hobbyist is going to keep any member of this genus in a reef tank, close observation should be made to ensure no coral damage is being done.


The most popular member of this genus is, without a doubt, Centropyge loricula – The Flame Angel. Found on Western, Southern, and Central Pacific reefs, this fish is distinguished by its brilliant red coloration and dark stripes with blue tips to the dorsal and anal fins. Depending on the region these fish are found, the red coloration may gradate into a brilliant orange on the sides, thus giving the fish it’s popular common. Second only to the Flame Angel in popularity is the beautiful Centropyge bisinosai – Coral Beauty (aka Twospined Angel). This fish is deep purple with a yellow patch on it’s belly, and depending on the geographic region, there may even be a yellow patch on it’s side.


Members of the Centropyge genus:

Centropyge abeii –

Centropyge acanthops – Orangeback Angelfish

Centropyge argi – Cherub Angel

Centropyge aurantia – Golden Angel

Centropyge aurantonotus – Flameback Angel

Centropyge bicolor – Bicolor Angel

Centropyge bisponsa – Coral Beauty

Centropyge boylei – Peppermint Angel

Centropyge colini – Cocos-Keeling Angel

Centropyge debelius – Blue Mauritius Angel

Centropyge eibli – Blacktail Angel

Centropyge ferrugata – Rusty Angel

Centropyge fisheri – Orange Angel (aka Fisher’s Angel)

Centropyge flavicauda – Whitetail Angel

Centropyge flavipectoralis – Yellowfin Angel

Centropyge flavissima – Lemonpeel Angel

Centropyge heraldi – Herald’s Angel (aka False Lemonpeel)

Centropyge hotumatua – Blackear Angel

Centropyge interruptus – Japanese Angel

Centropyge joculator – Yellowhead Angel

Centropyge loricula – Flame Angel

Centropyge multicolor – Multicolor Angel

Centropyge multifasciata – Barred Angel

Centropyge multispinis – Dusky Angel

Centropyge nahackyi – Nahacky’s Angel

Centropyge narcosis – Narc Angel

Centropyge nigriocella – Blackspot Angel

Centropyge nox – Midnight Angel

Centropyge potteri – Potter’s Angel

Centropyge replendens – Resplendent Angel

Centropyge shepardi – Shepard’s Angel (aka Mango Angel)

Centropyge tibicen – Keyhole Angel

Centropyge venustus – Purplemask Angel

Centropyge vrolikii – Halfblack Angel (aka Pearlscale Angel)


The Chaetodontoplus Genus


As is frequently the case with scientific names, similar names often indicate similarities in the fish, and the Chaetodontoplus genus is no exception. With only the addition of -toplus ending, this genus bears a remarkable resemblance to the Chaetodon genus of Butterfly Fishes. The body shape of the Chaetodon and Chaetodontoplus species is strikingly similar, however this is where the similarities end. The diet of the Chaetodontoplus genus is similar to that of the rest of the Pomacanthids, consisting mainly of marine algae, Mysid shrimp and other meaty offerings.


These fish are not suitable for most reef aquariums as they will nip at LPS corals, Tridacnid clam mantles and Zoanthids and may even eat certain soft corals. The threat to SPS corals is almost non-existent when these fish are in a tank that is entirely comprised of SPS: these fish may be added with caution.


One of the most common fish in this genus happens also to be one of the most popular in the Pomacanthid family: Chaetodontoplus duboulayii – The Scribbled Angelfish. It is popular not only for its strikingly beautiful coloration and markings, but also for its size and adaptability to captivity. At a maximum length of only 9.8 inches (25cm), this fish is suitable for tanks as small as 125 gallons (6 feet in length). Furthermore, this fish will readily accept captive fare and adjust to the home aquarium provided it is given lots of swimming room and a number of good hiding places.


Members of the Chaetodontoplus genus:

Chaetodontoplus ballinae – Ballina Angel

Chaetodontoplus caeruleopunctats – Bluespotted Angel

Chaetodontoplus chrysocephalus – Orangeface Angel

Chaetodontoplus conspicillatus – Conspicuous Angel

Chaetodontoplus dimidiatus – Velvet Angel

Chaetodontoplus duboulayi – Scribbled Angel

Chaetodontoplus melanosoma – Black-velvet Angelfish

Chaetodontoplus meredithi – Queensland Yellowtail Angel

Chaetodontoplus mesoleucus – Vermiculated Angel

Chaetodontoplus niger –

Chaetodontoplus personifer – Blueface Angel

Chaetodontoplus septentrionalis – Bluestriped Angel

Chaetodontoplus vanderloosi –


The Genicanthus Genus


Genicanthus is considered by many to be the oddball genus in the Pomacanthid family. The first major difference we find is behavior. The Genicantus species spend most of their time in the open water above the reef feeding primarily on meaty fare and occasionally picking at algae on the reef. The second major difference is that these fish are reef safe, posing no threat to either soft or stony corals. Thirdly, this genus of angels has major secondary sexual characteristics. Every species in this family can be sexed simply based on coloration and markings, and all of these differences are very distinct and noticeable. For example, Genicanthus watanabei – Watanabe’s Angel males have horizontal black stripes on their flanks while the female has a solid blue body. Fourthly, more than one of a given species can be kept in a tank providing only one male is kept. Finally, this genus contains the least colorful of the angelfishes. The most colorful member of this species is arguably Genicanthus semifasciatus – Japanese Swallowtail Angel followed closely by Genicanthus bellus – Ornate Angel, and Genicanthus melanospilos – Blackspot Angel. Besides these 3 fish, the other 7 members of this genus are colored mainly with silver, black, and muted blues. Even the Ornate Angel is colored with just these 3 colors but in much more striking definition.


Most of these fish adapt very well to captivity. The one species that does require caution is Genicanthus watanabei as they frequently suffer swim bladder issues. Care should be taken when purchasing this fish that they do not have swim bladder issues. Healthy specimens will adapt well to tanks. Keeping them in a dimly lit reef tank will help them to adapt much better.


Members of the Genicanthus genus:

Genicanthus bellus – Ornate Angel

Genicanthus caudovittatus – Zebra Angel

Genicanthus lamarck – Lamarck’s Angel

Genicanthus melanospilos – Blackspot Angel

Genicanthus personatus – Spotbreast Angel

Genicanthus semicinctus – Halfbanded Angel

Genicanthus semifasciatus – Japanese Swallowtail

Genicanthus spinus – Pitcaim Angel

Genicanthus takeuchii

Genicanthus watanabei – Watanabae’s Angel


The Holacanthus Genus


This is the genus of giants, it is also a genus of great confusion. There are 61 fish that have at one time or another been listed under the Holacanthus genus, however, there are only 8 species that are valid members. All 8 members of this genus are tank busters for sure, requiring tanks that range from 125 gallons all the way to 300+ gallons. No member of this genus is considered to be even remotely reef safe as all will nip at sessile invertebrates of all kinds. Even small polyp stony corals are at risk of being severely nipped. These fish are definitely suited for the fish only with live rock system, and should almost always be the last fish added to any system. Holacanthus species fish are generally quite bellicose with almost anything you add. Holacanthus fish are also some of the most adaptable angels to captivity with one major exception.


The crowning jewel of the the Holacanthus genus is the Queen Angelfish – H. ciliaris. Not only is this fish the crowning jewel of the Holacanthus genus, it is also one of the most highly prized Pomacanthids and one of the most treasured fish in the marine hobby. At just under 18 inches (45 cm) in length, this beauty is also one of the largest angels available to the hobbyist. The coloration of H. ciliaris makes it highly prized among hobbyists; few fish in the ocean can match the sensational beauty of this fish. Sadly, few hobbyists are able to provide the appropriate tank to support these giants. Proper housing of H. ciliaris requires a tank of 300 gallons or more with plenty of live rock and lots of dart holes. These fish will thrive in captivity, making the switch from a sponge diet to a captive diet consisting of a good mix of vegetable and meaty fare. A high quality frozen mix that includes sponge is a good idea to offer these fish to help them to adapt to captivity.


The exception to the adaptability of the Holacanthus genus is H. tricolor – The Rock Beauty. These fish are highly sought after by hobbyists however they adapt very poorly to captivity and in almost all cases, starve to death. They are sponge eaters and do not adapt to the captive dietary mix of carnivorous and herbivorous offerings. On a very rare occasion, a specimen will adapt well to captive fare and will thrive in a home aquarium. Unfortunately, it is that slim chance of getting that one specimen that entices many hobbyists to try this fish and sadly, most of them starve. Not only is this a fish for beginners to avoid, it is one that should be avoided by all but the most experienced and expert of hobbyists.


Members of the Holacanthus genus:

Holacanthus africanus – Guinean Angelfish

Holacanthus bermudensis – Blue Angelfish

Holacanthus ciliaris – Queen Angelfish

Holacanthus clarionensis – Clarion Angelfish

Holacanthus isabelita – Blue Angelfish

Holacanthus limbaughi – Clipperton Angelfish

Holacanthus passer – King Angelfish

Holacanthus tricolor – Rock Beauty Angelfish


The Pomacanthus Genus


This genus is quite possibly the most commonly thought of genus when discussing the Pomacanthid family. Like the Holacanthus genus, the Pomacanthus genus is home to some of the giants of the family. Nearly every one of the species in this genus reaches 12 inches (30cm) in length with most being 15 inches (38cm) or larger. This genus is unique among the Pomacanthids, in that it contains a sub-genus. The sub-genus Euxiphipops contains only 3 fish, P. navarchus, P. sexstriatus, and P. xanthometopon, and is frequently mistakenly elevated to the level of genus by many hobbyists. Like most other genera in the family, the members of this genus are not considered to be reef safe as they will nip at most sessile invertebrates. Some members are safe with small polyp stony corals, however not all. Another great feature of this genus is the striking difference in coloration between juveniles and adults. Frequently, the juvenile coloration of these fish bears little resemblance to their adult colors. Picking one that goes through the greatest change from juvenile to adult is practically impossible to do as they all go through such a drastic change.


The dietary requirements for all members of the Pomacanthus genus are quite similar, with all of them being omnivores. Their diet should contain large amounts of vegetable matter along with meaty offerings such as Mysid shrimp. Most members of this genus will adapt quite well to eating in captivity and are hardy, robust aquarium inhabitants.


Pomacanthis imperator – The Emperor Angelfish; without a doubt, this fish is the king of the Pomacanthids. At 15 inches (38cm) in length and with a coloration to make anyone stop and stare, this fish is a true jewel of the ocean. Sadly, this fish also requires a very large tank; 180gal minimum. The Emperor Angelfish also has the distinction of being one of the few members of the Pomacanthus genus that can frequently be kept in a SPS dominated tank, however clams would be out as they will have their mantles shredded. As with all angels though, it is no guarantee that individual specimens will not bother some SPS.


Pomacanthus euxiphipops navarchus – Magestic Angelfish: this fish is is one of the best choices out of the Pomacanthus genus for a SPS dominated tank. Hobbyists frequently keep these fish in reef tanks comprised entirely of SPS corals and more noxious soft corals.

Members of the Pomacanthus genus:

Pomacanthus annularis – Bluering Angelfish

Pomacanthis arcuatus – Gray Angelfish

Pomacanthuis asfur – Arabian Angelfish (Asfur Angelfish)

Pomacanthus chrysurus – Goldtail Angelfish

Pomacanthus imperator – Emperor Angelfish (Imperator Angelfish)

Pomacanthus maculosus – Yellowbar Angelfish

Pomacanthus euxiphipops navarchus – Magestic Angelfish (Bluegirdled Angelfish)

Pomacanthus paru – French Angelfish

Pomacanthus rhomboides – Old Woman Angelfish

Pomacanthus semicirculatus – Semicircle Angelfish (Halfcircled Angelfish)

Pomacanthus euxiphipops sexstriatus – Sixbar Angelfish

Pomacanthus euxiphipops xanthometopon – Blueface Angelfish (Yellowface Angelfish)

Pomacanthus zonipectus – Cortez Angelfish


The Pygoplites Genus


This genus is easily the smallest genus in the Pomacanthid family, containing just one member. Pygoplites diacanthus – The Regal Angelfish is another beautiful member of this family, but is somewhat delicate. Not all specimens will adapt to captive life very well, however this is an issue that can be somewhat overcome. Specimens that are collected form the Red Sea and Indian ocean have proven to be more adaptable to aquarium life then do those that are captured in the Pacific Ocean. Much of this difference has been ascribed to collection methods and not to the environment itself. Unlike many of the other pomacanthids, these fish, while being omnivores, are mainly carnivorous in their diet but do also accept herbivorous offerings. When it comes to reef compatibility, these fish are typical marine angelfish, in that they are not a good good choice with large-polyp stony corals, most soft corals, and clams, but are generally okay to keep with SPS corals. Again, this varies from specimen to specimen, but this is the general case with these fish.


The Pomacanthid family is truly one full of beautiful fish that are rewarding to keep. They are a stunning addition to any appropriate marine setup. The key to the Pomacanthids is the same as all marine fish: research the desired species, know what you are getting into, and be sure you can provide the proper environment.

7 thoughts on “Angels of the Deep”

  1. ILuvMyGoldBarb Post author

    Just a note to anyone wishing to leave a comment, please take note that the fish being discussed here are Saltwater Angelfish. I have denied approval for a large number of comments relating to Freshwater Angels. This is a SW blog, not FW.


  2. Anonymous

    I was suggested this web site by my cousin. I am not sure whether this post is written by him as no one else know such detailed about my problem. You’re wonderful! Thanks!


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