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This month we finish with angelfish in your aquarium. This would include Genicanthus, Holacanthus and Pomacanthus angelfish.

The only angelfish species not discussed up to now that are all reef safe is Genicanthus species. These angelfish are not nearly as well represented in reef aquariums as they should be. The reasons are not that clear but I do think that due to their availability and the fact that most reefers do not know they are reef safe, might play a role in it. BUT THE BEST ANGELFISH FOR YOUR REEF AQUARIUM, BY FAR !!

Let’s look at this genus more closely. Genicanthus distribution is mainly from Asia to the pacific island as far as Hawaii, with most of the species coming from the pacific islands. This hard to excess distribution combined with their naturally deep water habitat make them not that easy to acquire. This genus is represented by the 10 elegant species generally called swallow tail angel fish with only one species regularly available and a few species hardly ever.

Genicanthus angels are zooplankton feeders and not mainly substrate feeders like other angels and therefore look a bit different when compared to angelfish, they look more like “supped up” goldies. The sexual difference between Males and females are drastic, where males are normally banded and females plainer even in colour. All Genicanthus angelfish start life as a female and change to male when bigger, they could change from female to male colouration in 30 days!

As stated they are ACTIVE Open water swimmers coming from reef slopes as deep as 30 meter deep and therefore need to be decompressed correctly, for you to end up with a healthy fish. Specimens that have not been decompressed correctly do not stand a good chance to survive the rigors of exporting and acclimatisation to reef aquarium environment. If the decompression has not been done correctly the following symptoms should be visible. The fish is unable to keep stationery in the water column, the fish will constantly have a head down pose while fighting the tendency to float, the specimen will wedge itself into a crevice to stop popping to the surface or in really bad cases the fish will float on the surface. Although Genicanthus species are generally found close or over reefs they do not swim thru the reef the hole time, they tend to swim and catch their food in mid water and do not mind a strong current, they actually thrive in strong currents and seek the flow pumps outlets out, to swim up against the current.

Feeding your healthy Genicanthus specimen is normally no problem as they will actively eat most of the food you add for your other fish and to your corals. Due to their active lifestyle they need a variety of food available more often than other angelfish, again more like a goldie than an angelfish.

Best known and most commonly available Species in this genus is Genicanthus lamarck normally available as 5 to 8cm specimens that can grow to 23cm. This is one of the hardiest of this genus and easily starts to feed in captivity. Sexing Lamarck angels is relatively easy, juveniles and females do not develop long caudal fin streamers and also do not have blue pectoral fins, only males have both or either of these two characteristics.

Another relatively regular import is Genicanthus melanospilos the Black spot angelfish, zebra angelfish or Japanese swallow tail angel. They are the hardiest of all Genicanthus angels and only ask for enough swimming spaces, some good current, good water quality, lower light or lots of hiding places and regular feedings. Males are normally imported at 12cm+ size and females from 5 to 8 cm. Females are a gorgeous yellow backed fish with a blue tailfin with black edges that turn into males with zebra pattern like bars all over its body and lots of yellow spots on the dorsal, anal and caudal fins and the black spot on its breast were its name come from.

A sought after species of Genicanthus is Genicanthus bellus. This beauty is a deeper water species so availability of healthy specimens is not that common. Commonly called Ornate angel, they acclimatise relatively easy to aquarium conditions if a healthy specimen is started with and females fair much better than males, so buy 2 females and wait for one to turn into a male if you want a male, this might be as fast as one month. They either need a lot of dark hiding places or a dimly lit aquarium to thrive in captivity. In nature the norm is that males are beautiful and the female is dull, well in my opinion the Bellus angel do not follow this rule. Females have a beautiful bright blue, black, light-blue body with a red stripe in the dorsal fine, while the male is a dull grey coloured fish with 2 yellow stripes and some blue on their fines edges.

Genicanthus caudivittatus is the species that represent this genus on our African east coast up to the Red Sea and Mauritius. Females look a lot like the G melanospilos without the yellow back and with an extra stripe into the eye. Males look even more like G melanospilos with stronger yellow colouration, more bars and an extra black band in their dorsal fin. G caudivittatus is one of the swallow tailed angels that do occur in shallower water up to 10 meters.

Genicanthus watanabei is my personal favourite, especially the females, they have got a presence and grace that when combined with the pure sky-blue colour they display in a reef aquarium, grab and keep your attention for hours. G watanabei angels are rarely available and command a high price when available. This 15 cm species start life with sky-blue body, black lines on their fine edges and 3 to 4 black bars with neon blue in between on their noses. When they turn adult the black edges on the tail and the bars on their noses disappear to be replaced with 8 to 13 black horizontal stripes on their body.

Genicanthus semifasciatus also called the Japanese swallow tail angel is not regularly available but worth their price if you find a healthy specimen. The males are beautiful with their tiger stripes and the bright yellow on their heads and sides of their body. Females are not lacking far behind, with their white-blue body, yellow back and the black lines on their tailfin and also thru and behind the eye they also demand attention.

Genicanthus personatus is not very commonly available and coming from Hawaii they hardly ever see our shores. Not only will they be expensive but you might also battle to get them to start eating in captivity, so leave them for the most experienced reefers or be prepared to go the extra MILES for them.

Other Genicanthus species like G semicinctus, G spinus and G takeuchii have not been available regularly and you need to do some homework before you buy them.

Holacanthus angelfish are like their cousins Pomacanthus in many ways, they both look different from juvenile to adults, in adult fish sexing is from relatively easy to extremely difficult, they grow to a large size and are generally very hardy species if kept correct.

Holacanthus angelfish have an attitude as big as their size, they can become bullies to the point of been called demons. So they need to be introduced to large aquariums with tank mates that could withstand their harassment.

All Holacanthus angelfish feed heavily on sponges and algae, so additional feeding of both algae and special angelfish food containing sponges are important. Feeding them fresh & frozen seafood, brine shrimp, Mysis shrimp, frozen preparations for angelfish, dried food formulated for angelfish and lots of spirulina based preparations on a regular basis even as often as 5 times a day would see them growing into healthy specimens.

Most Holacanthus species are not reef safe and should be housed in a fish only system. The Holacanthus that are available in South Africa are H. bermudensis (Blue angelfish), H. ciliaris (Queen angelfish), H. passer (king angelfish) and H. tricolor (Rock beauty). All of them are beautiful to look at and relatively hardy, just remember their temperament and sponge diets.

Holacanthus africanus this west African species is not regularly available and are extremely expensive when available. This species is the opposite from the ugly duckling tale, they are beautiful when juvenile but not that attractive as adults.

Blue angel – Holacanthus bermudensis – come from Florida and is a sponge feeder. They are available for your fish only system and not your reef aquarium. Growing to 38cm you would need a large aquarium to hose them and don’t forget their sponges in their diet. Otherwise they are hardy and relatively easy to keep.

Queen angelfish – Holacanthus ciliaris – very similar to Blue angel – Holacanthus bermudensis – and juveniles are actually extremely difficult to distinguish from each other. Growing to 45cm this species grow bigger and are more sought after than the blue angelfish.

King angelfish – Holacanthus passer – coming from the gulf of California and as far as the Galapagos, found in rocky areas and a omnivore. Growing to 36cm they need space and due to their ability to adapt their feeding behaviour to their environment the possibility of training them not to feed on corals are sometimes successful. But they are one of the most aggressive angelfish of them all.

Rock beauty – Holacanthus tricolor – Georgia down to the northern parts of the Gulf of Mexico. This species die if they do not get sufficient sponges in their diet, this is due to a nutritional deficiency that could only come from sponges. So do not buy this angelfish if you do not intend to insure this fish get sufficient sponges in their diet. Juveniles also feed on other fishes mucus/slime layer and should be housed with lots of other fish to ensure this do not negatively influence the tankmates.

Holacanthus clarionensis and H limbaughi are 2 species we do not see in SA, due to their remote locations.

Pomacanthus angelfish, arguably the angelfish everyone think of when they think of marine angelfish and rightly so, on the reef they are angelic but in captivity in our smaller environment they are a bit more boisterous, but less aggressive than Holacanthus angels. Pomacanthus can actually be housed with more placid fish like butterfly fish, swallowtail angelfish, fairy wrasse and gobies. But remember the old rule, do not add new fish of similar body form or colour that are more timid or smaller than the angelfish you have in your aquarium.

Pomacanthus angelfish in reef aquariums is a heavily debated aspect of angelfish behaviour, one specimen of a species would behave great and the next specimen of the same species would be a bad boy destroying corals as it go. Pomacanthus angelfish could destroy stony corals but in general the species that behaved themselves the best in reef aquariums are P. annularis, P. asfur, P. semicirculatus, P. navarcus and P. xanthometopon. The trick for success seem to be lots of open swimming spaces, large aquariums, very regular feedings with good quality food and a bit of luck. My experience with P. navarcus, P. asfur and P. maculosus in large reef aquariums was positively good.

Like Holacanthus species Pomacanthus species also need lots of regular good quality angelfish food supplemented by other meaty foods. See above.

Pomacanthus angelfish that are available in South Africa are P. annularis (Blue ring angelfish), P. asfur (Arabian angelfish), P. crysurus (earspot angelfish), P. imperator (emperor angelfish), P. maculosus (Yellow bar angelfish), P. navarcus (majestic angelfish) P. semicirculatus (Koran angelfish), P. sexstriatus (6banded angelfish) and P. xanthometopon (bluefase angelfish).

Pomacanthus annularis – Blue-ring angelfish come from east Africa up to Sri Lanka and love turbid water conditions even in harbours and around piers. They tend to be very shy when newly introduced, so provide lots of hiding laces. Once they start to feed their tendency to hide become less and less to the point where they could actually harass other tank mates.

Pomacanthus asfur – Arabian angelfish come from the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Growing to 40cm and been shy combined with its stunning colouration make this angelfish popular.

Pomacanthus chrysurus – Ear-spot angelfish grow to 33cm and are quite sought after due to their lowered aggression, ease of starting to feed and their hardiness. Coming from Natal up to the Gulf of Oman we are fortunate to see them quite often.

Pomacanthus imperator – Emperor angelfish grow to 38cm, with a wide distribution from east African coast to southern Japan and their beauty they are truly the Emperor of the angelfish.

Pomacanthus maculosus – Yellowbar angelfish grow to 50cm and are distributed from the Rea Sea to the Arabian gulf and down to Kenya. Yellowbar angelfish appear a lot like the Pomacanthus asfur – Arabian angelfish and distinguishing them apart could be a problem, especially when juvenile. When it comes to hardiness this species are tops, they are the easiest to maintain in captivity.

Pomacanthus navarcus – Majestic angelfish grow to 25cm and occur from Malaysia east to Solomon’s, north to Ryukyus and south to Australia. Although rather delicate to keep. Giving them a large aquarium with lots of hiding places, good water quality, regular sponge feedings and good aquarium maintenance would make them much easier to keep and worth the effort. If your aquarium is large you could actually house this species in your reef aquarium.

Pomacanthus paru – French angelfish grow to 38cm and do not come from France, but rather the Gulf of Mexico down to Brazil. Although one of the least aggressive of these angelfish, this fish could still be a terror.

Pomacanthus semicirculatus – Koran angelfish grow to 35cm and are very widely distributed, from SA north to Sri Lanka east to Fiji and Australia and most of everything in-between. Although not that colourful when adults as the rest of this genus, they make up for it with their hardiness and low price.

Pomacanthus xanthometopon – yellow fase angelfish grow to 38cm and are distributed from the Maldives to Vanuatu and north to Carolines, Ryukyus and down to the Great Barrier Reef. With its lowered aggression and its shy temperament it might take months to acclimatize this species, especialy in a high traffic area or with aggressive tank mates. But this all change after aclimetisation, then it are as aggressive and active as other species in this genus.

Pomacanthus zonipectus – Cortez angelfish come from Magdalena bay, Baja, Gulf of Mexico and south to Peru and Galapagos and grow to an impressive 48cm. Although not as beautiful as other Pomacanthus sp. when adult, the juveniles are gorgeous and sought after. But still a good coloured fish for large fish only systems.

Pomacanthus arcuatus – Grey angelfish, Pomacanthus sextriatus – six-bar angelfish and Pomacanthus rhomboids – Old woman angelfish are not imported due to a low demand.

Hope the past few months gave you a good insight into marine angelfish and ensured that you can go out with a lot more confidence selecting the right angelfish for your aquarium.


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