If there was a marine aquarium fish that could be said to be the most popular, it would have to be the Clownfish.
Clowns (aka anemone fish) consist of 30 species all belonging to the genus Amphiprion, with one exception being the Maroon (species biaculeatus), which belongs to the genus Premnas.
Part of a sub-family of damselfish, the little Clownfish is as feisty and tough as they come. I once personally kept a pair of perculas in a 300-gallon, fish-only marine aquarium that claimed a large conch shell in the center of the aquarium and successfully kept 10-inch angels and other various large surgeon fish away from their property.
There are at least 8-10 species of Clownfish that we know of, which are regularly bred on a large commercial scale. It is a great achievement that the vast majority of Clownfish sold today are domestically-raised. In most healthy reef aquariums, many species of clowns, particularly ocellaris, perculas and biaculeatus often spawn, providing the serious aquarist with an opportunity to try and raise marine fish fry. We say ‘try’ because those that are successful are indeed dedicated aquarists since this feat is not to be underestimated.
These marine fish also rank as the easiest to keep as they readily accept almost any food, dry or frozen, and their compact dimensions and beyond vivid coloration, is unmatched. In fact, I can’t think of a better fish to feature in a desktop mini-reef.
They’ve Got Personality!
Clownfish are also loaded with character. They will greet their owner with an overt presence and are true extroverts of the fish world. Are they likeable? Absolutely! With their adorable side-to-side, body wag swimming style, these fish exude a happy and engaged presence that makes them irresistible.
Although it’s very easy to love all the great things about anemone fish, there are some cautions that need to be respected. You cannot generally mix different species of Clownfish together as some species will tend to trim their population down to one remaining pair in an aquarium. Once they take a tank over, especially the larger more aggressive species, introducing any new fish can be a serious problem. In fact, I can tell you some interesting stories about how upset Maroon clowns can get when you decide to restructure a reef tank, or even just add or change the position of a few corals. The severity of their attacks on your hands and forearms will make you wonder whether you’ve got pit bulls in your aquarium rather than Clownfish!
I had a pair of gold-striped Maroon clowns, and the female, at a solid 5 inches long, would vehemently oppose me putting my hands in the aquarium. She would bite down hard just to get her point across. If I wanted to reposition a coral or add some frags to a given area, I had to make sure to epoxy it in place or be ready to constantly pick the piece up off the bottom of the aquarium. Furthermore, adding any new specimens in with that particular clown was more or less impossible unless the new entry was large and really tough, which is not really characteristic of most reef-safe fish.
Clownfish and Anemones
Do Clownfish have to be kept with anemones? No, they most certainly do not. Many clowns will gladly adopt a piece of soft coral to foster their symbiotic relationship drive. For example, perculas are relatively fussy when it comes to anemones. They have a select few species they prefer and will often ignore most others. While it is a real visual treat to see a harmonious pair of Clownfish hovering in the tentacles of their beloved anemone, it is not mandatory for their well-being.
If you decide you must have an anemone together with your Clownfish, remember that some are easier than others to look after. Bubble tip (Entacmaea quadricolor) anemones do not get enormous and have a preference to anchor themselves to rock structures in your reef.
All anemones require quality strong light levels, including the right spectrum and colour temperature. Remember this when you are budgeting for your lighting system.
Out of the many anemones that exist, there are only ten species that are known to host Clownfish. In fact, it’s the Clownfish that gets the better of this deal as the anemone is a refuge for the Clownfish.
While some species of clowns can be really fierce in their defense of their host and territory, ultimately the anemone with its stinging tentacles possesses the more effective defensive shield.
It is very important to be aware of the fact that large clowns can overwhelm a small anemone. This is common when providing a large pair of Maroon clowns with a medium-sized bubble-tipped anemone; the clowns so vehemently charge into the anemone that the animal cannot tolerate the physical pressure put on it. In cases like this, the anemone is likely to hide and actually deprive itself of light, ultimately resulting in its death. If you introduce an anemone, make sure it can easily handle the size of your Clownfish.
Anemones That Host Clowns
Stichodactyla gigantea, Stichodactyla haddoni, Stichodactyla mertensii, Entacmaea quadricolor, Heteractis crispa, Heteractis magnifica, Heteractis malu, Macrodactyla doreensis, Heteractis aurora.
Common Clownfish Species
True Percula, Occelaris Clown, Two Bar Anemonefish, Cinnamon Clown, Clarkii Clown, Maroon Clown, Pink Skunk, Orange Skunk, Saddleback, Sebae, Tomato.
So which clown is my favourite? It’s a tough choice because they are all wonderful. However, if forced to choose, my pick would be the percula with its bright deep coloration and strong outgoing character.