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Fish, Shrimp & Corals


December 13, 2018 | By Tom Sarac

by Tom Sarac

Anyone with even the slightest interest in marine fish or reefs will undoubtedly be drawn to the impressive colours and behaviours of Angelfish. Many reef keepers roll the dice and will even introduce this species to their tank knowing full well that they sometimes spend their day picking on polyps and inherently stressing (if not killing) these prized invertebrates.

Angelfish are equipped with solid preopercle spines, which are found on the lower portion of both gill covers. They are members of the Pomacanthidae family – “Poma” meaning “Cover” and “akantha” meaning “thorn”. Those spines, although a beautiful distinguishing feature, almost never fail to get tangled in aquarium fish nets, so when catching them, it’s strongly recommended to heard them into a transparent plastic container and gently lift them out of the aquarium.

Saltwater angels typically inhabit shallow tropical reefs of the Atlantic, Indian and Western Pacific Oceans. It’s the Western Pacific, however, that is home to the majority of species. Pomacanthidae angelfish consist of 9 genera, within which exist close to 90 different species.


The genus Centropyge (dwarf angelfish), for the most part, are fish that do not grow beyond 3 to 4 inches in length. Some of the species can easily be kept in aquariums as small as 15 gallons, and will generally adapt to aquarium life easily and be accepting of various frozen foods. They are a colourful group, with some species as stunning and vibrant as any other marine fish one could think of. In fact, I would challenge anyone to find a fish that pops more than a nice flame angel.

The genuses Pygoplites, Apolemichthys, Chaetodontoplus, Genicanthus are within the mid-sized group, and contain the species that need to be housed in aquariums from 60 to 120 gallons. This group contains some fascinating specimens, in particular, the Regal Angel (P. Dicanthus) and the Goldflake Angel (A. Xanthopunctatus). Without a doubt, the Regal angel can be kept in reef aquariums with a certain amount of risk but are well worth it. There is very little risk, however, when kept in SPS tanks.

The genuses Pomacanthus and Holacanthus are large marine angel fish that demand big aquariums – nothing less than 100 gallons but preferably in the 200 to 300 gallon range. Obviously these fish command a sizable commitment in terms of expense, space and time, but it’s difficult to capture in words just how magnificent an Emperor Angel (Pomacanthus imperator) can look in a 250 gallon SPS coral reef tank.

If you want to enjoy marine angels to their fullest potential, you’ll ideally need a well-established aquarium with:

  • Reef-quality water and strong movement
  • Live rock and caves
  • Hardy coral or SPS coral
  • An effective protein skimmer
  • A quality reef-capable marine mix
  • A regular partial water change schedule
  • A diligent feeding regimen

I may not be a gambling man, but I would certainly recommend you take a chance on a logical, low risk marine angel any day of the week. They are just too colourful, interesting and captivating not to keep. I’ve kept an Arabian angel (Pomacanthus asfur) in a very nice 100 gallon SPS reef tank at home for quite some time now, and while he’s picked on a new piece of hard coral on occasion, it’s nothing that can’t be easily handled by diverting his attention with a feeding of his favorite food.


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