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Related FAQs: Best FAQs on Centropyge, Centropyge Angels, FAQs on Centropyge Angels 2, Centropyge Angels 4, Dwarf Angel Identification, Dwarf Angel Selection, Dwarf Angel Compatibility, Dwarf Angel Compatibility 2, Dwarf Angel Systems, Dwarf Angel Feeding, Dwarf Angel Disease, Dwarf Angel Disease 2, Dwarf Angel Disease 3, Dwarf Angel Reproduction, Marine Angelfishes In General, Selection, Behavior, Compatibility, Systems, Health, Feeding, Disease.  

Related Articles: C. loricula/Flame Angel, Lemon/y Dwarf Angels, A Couple of Lemons; the True and False/Herald's (nee Woodheadi) Centropyges, Potter's Angels, Reef Safari! Keeping Multibarred Angelfish By Alexander Thomasser, The Marine Angelfish Family, Pomacanthidae

/The Conscientious Marine Aquarist

Perfect Little Angels, Genus Centropyge, pt. 3

To: Part. 1, Part 2,


By Bob Fenner

Centropyge multifasciata
Angelfishes for  Marine Aquariums
Diversity, Selection & Care

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by Robert (Bob) Fenner

Centropyge multicolor Randall & Wass 1974, the Multicolor Dwarf Angel (2), is another deepwater dwarf dwarf species (to 3 inches) requiring subdued lighting and few tankmates. Western and central Pacific islands. Similar to Centropyge nahackyi. Aquarium images.

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Centropyge multifasciata (Smith & Radcliffe 1911), the Multi-Barred Angel (2). More deep-bodied than other Centropyge and with 13 versus the usual 14, 15 dorsal rays of other dwarfs. Not imported regularly in any numbers. Currently  placed in the genus Paracentropyge. 

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Centropyge multispinis (Playfair & Gunther 1867) , the Multi-Spined Dwarf Angel (2), reminds me of a yellowish bodied coral beauty. Coastal Indian Ocean into the Red Sea, where these were photographed.

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Centropyge nahackyi Kosaki 1989, Nahacky's Pygmy or Dwarf Angel (1), for the professional collector Tony Nahacky of Hawai'i (now of Fiji). Found almost exclusively on Johnston Atoll in the mid Pacific, occasionally strays are found in Hawai'i. Similar, but darker bodied than C. multicolor. Pix by Hiroyuki Tanaka and RMF.

Centropyge& speciesname=nahackyi

Centropyge narcosis Pyle & Randall 1992, Deep-Reef Pygmy Angelfish (2). Named for the narcotizing effect on the collectors of the only specimens taken so far at 75-120 meters depth. Known only from Cook Islands, mid-South central Pacific.

No pic (or rebreather) yet!

Centropyge nigriocellus Woods & Schultz 1953, the Black-Spot Dwarf Angel (2); very rare in the trade. Western Pacific out to Johnston Island.

Got to go there.

Centropyge nox (Bleeker 1853), the Midnight or Black Pygmy Angel (3) is as its name implies overall black. Only a few of this shy species adapts well to captivity. Western Pacific.


Centropyge potteri Jordan & Metz 1912, Potter's Dwarf Angel (3), is another fish found only in Hawai'i. When picking one of these out for use, make sure to acquire a well-adjusted individual; I'd wait till it was in captivity a good two weeks. And only try this species in a very well-established reef tank, with peaceful tankmates, AFTER you've become an "advanced" aquarist. Blue-Black "phase" by Hiroyuki Tanaka and a "normal" one by RMF. 

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Centropyge resplendens Lubbock & Sankey, the Resplendent Dwarf Angel (1), is rarely seen as its known range is around St. Helena & Ascension Islands, marooned in the mid-Atlantic. A real dwarf species, to two inches in length.

Hiroyuki Tanaka and Jim Stime photos. 

Centropyge shepardi Randall & Yasuda 1979, Shepard's Dwarf Angel (2); rarely imported. Males with more black margining and blue patch on the shoulder. Western Pacific Ocean. Male and female shown at right.

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Centropyge tibicen (Cuvier 1831), the Keyhole Pygmy Angel (2). Some folks have had better success with this species than I and my associates. Start with a mid-sized specimen, 3-4". Indo-west Pacific.

Verticals (Full/Cover Page Sizes Available
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Centropyge venustus (Yasuda & Tominaga 1969), Venustus, Purple-Mask or Blue-Backed Angelfish (3). Now placed in the genus Sumireyakko, and mis-placed by some authors in the genus Paracentropyge. Western Pacific rim. To five inches in length. Aquarium pic.

Centropyge vrolikii (Bleeker 1853), the Pearl-Scaled or Half-Black Dwarf Angel (1), is one of my standard, "marine aquarium service account species". Very hardy. Indo-west Pacific Ocean in distribution. Closely related to, and hybridizes with Centropyge flavissimus and Centropyge eibli. Aquarium and N. Sulawesi pix.

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Centropyge woodheadi Kuiter 1998, Woodhead's Dwarf Angelfish (2), probably a variant of the species Centropyge heraldi, this "species" is described from Australia's Coral Sea. Below: Waikiki Aquarium photo of a specimen with an advancing case of HLLE and one in Fiji.

Centropyge species Crosses!

Want more? There are xanthic varieties and natural crosses known amongst several of these species as well and that's not the end of their taxonomic quandaries. Two of these may be recognized as belonging to the genus Paracentropyge, C. multifasciatus, C. boylei; and the venustus is only tentatively listed here. C. venustus is more often listed as a Holacanthus angelfish.

 Here is a cross between Centropyge aurontonotus X Centropyge resplendens

At a retail shop in NJ 2012

Hybrids on parade! Here are some crosses between Centropyge flavissimus X Centropyge vroliki

At wholesalers' to the right. Interzoo 08, and a Shepardi X Loricula cross at IMAC West/Quality Marine's booth in 09 below.

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Natural Range

Shallow to deeper (at least 300 meters) tropical reefs of the central and western Pacific, Indian and tropical Atlantic Oceans.


The dwarf-dwarf species mentioned to a maximum of two-three inches total length, all others to about twice that.

Selection: General to Specific

People who have been in the trade and/or hobby for ages know how to pick out healthy specimens at a glance. These are the fishes that are "bright", inquisitive/curious about their environment, checking things out. Dull, pale-colored, "just hanging around" or rapid breathing specimens are almost always doomed. Relating this relative quality is not difficult in first person, but in writing?

1) Look for active, clear eyed fishes that have an interest in their surroundings. They should definitely react to your visible presence, and be difficult to catch. If an individual can be easily scooped up, it's had it.

2) Having stated that, it is still exceedingly difficult for the uninitiated to distinguish between "A" and "B" or less choices. Ask for guidance, help in choosing. Don't be shy about putting yours on hold for a while with a good-faith earnest deposit.

3) Observe the prospective buy carefully for signs of capture, decompression, holding and transport damage. All of these angels are wild collected, most all from depths requiring timely raising or "needling" to release expanding gas in their bladders. Direct damage, collateral stress and infection needs to be fully assessed. Reddened rough scale areas, fin insertions, needle marks, body bloating disqualify my buying.

4) Country of origin is extremely important. Should you check through the available literature and opinions of others regarding this group, you'll be surprised at how they differ on which species are tough/touchy. Much of this varying point of view has to do with each persons frame of reference. If you're from Australia, or receive your livestock from there, your coral beauties among most all other Centropyge species are really great, and do very well. If all you have is the Philippine product, you won't be promoting bicolors or hardly any dwarf angel product. Yes, ask where your livestock hails from! It is of consequence. Be willing to shell out the extra money for specimens that have been collected via conscientious, environment and species/community sustainable methods. They do live longer, better lives, and you will have "cast your vote" for right.

Environmental: Conditions


Consists of coral and rock rubble, with lots of caves and crannies. Take a look at the surrounding environment in pictures shown with some of the dwarf angels here. Some species spend 1/4 to 1/2 of their time hidden in and amongst those thickets hiding from predators and marine collectors. Arrange something similar for them in your system to make them feel at home.

All Centropyge consume a considerable amount of microalgae and detritus, therefore it pays to not be too meticulous in keeping their system sterile. Allow algae to grow on the surface of all non-viewing panels of the system and decor.


Ideal conditions are an artificially low specific gravity, 1.018-1.023, high pH (upper 7's low 8's), temperature in the seventies F., and reasonable cumulative nitrate levels (less than 50ppm).


Due to the use of so much decorative material, undergravel filtration is at a distinct disadvantage. If you utilize U/G, do augment it with a high volume (four plus turns per hour) outside power unit as well; dwarf angels greatly benefit from brisk circulation.

For maintenance purposes, I suggest developing the "left or right" gravel vacuuming schedule that we used in our Service Company years. This involves alternating between one side of the tank or the other per water change period, carefully dismantling the stacked rock and coral, vacuuming the substrate underneath, returning the decor, and doing the other end next water change.


Recall what is stated here regarding Centropyge structure, feeding and breeding habits. These are secretive fishes that hide in and amongst cover more or less continuously to avoid being eaten. Your system needs to have cover galore for as many individuals as you desire your size system can accommodate.

Behavior: Territoriality

For their size, these angels can be downright feisty; in particular the "smallest of the small", those Centropyge that rarely exceed 2 1/2" (C. acanthops, C. argi, C. aurantonotus, C. fisheri, C. flavicauda, C. nigriocellus, C. resplendens). All dwarf angels are territorial, especially with members of their own species, then other Centropyge. Only folks with very big systems, four or more feet long, should tempt fate with more than one of the same species... and then only with plenty of cover and their watchful eye.

As regards their use in reef set-ups, I have seen this done successfully with several species, and just about equally turn into a disaster. Dwarf angels will sample live corals and other invertebrates as well as micro and macro-algae. Before attempting one, keep in mind how difficult a pygmy angel will be to remove should it turn into a nibbler in your reef. Still not dissuaded? If you must, try one of the dwarf-dwarf species or a very small individual of a full size model.


I'm convinced that the principal source of dwarf angel mortality comes from stress associated with improper or inadequate conditioning during wild/wholesaler/dealer/end-user transit. Most of these losses can be further eliminated by you in the selection and quarantine of newcomers. A couple of weeks rest and reconstitution in a low light, decor filled aquarium hardens Centropyge tremendously.

It's best for food and territorial behavioral reasons to introduce dwarf angels last or near last, after other tankmates have settled into a peaceable or at least workable pecking order. Letting the system age will ensure the presence of some ancillary "food" (algae, detritus) for your dwarf to pick at.

Adding more than one Centropyge to your system? Do try to place them at the same time; or if that's not probable, make sure the new arrival is bigger (or female gender if discernible) and rearrange the decor to disorient the current tenants.

Predator/Prey Relations

Some species of pygmy angels are heavily predated in the wild, explaining a great deal of their secretive nature. Tankmates with mouth openings large enough may well take them in the day or night.

Reproduction, Sexual Differentiation:

In terms of sexing members of the genus, some are known to display temporary or permanent color differences between the sexes (dichromatism), and in all there are size differences (dimorphism) by sex. For example in Potter's and flame angelfishes males are larger and colorful on their unpaired fins than females.

All dwarf angels investigated start off sexually undifferentiated, become females that turn into males with age/growth, a condition called protogynous (first female) hermaphroditism (possessing both sexes). Further Centropyge live in groups of one male with several females, in a harem or haremic condition. When the male is removed from this harem, or in a situation of surplus females, one of them will convert to a male.

Spawning has been observed in the wild and in captivity for a number of pygmy angel species. On the reef some are seasonal spawners, tied with the seasons, moons or tides, others behave less discriminately as in captivity. Actual gamete release follows a set pattern, with a pair doing a swimming dance, soaring about a prominent spot, spawning and an after-chase.

A dozen or so species have spawned in captivity, though raising the planktonic young to size has proven elusive.

Feeding/Foods/Nutrition: Types, Frequency, Amount, Wastes

Most Centropyge fall into the food category of Mbuna cichlids, relying on algae and interstitial fauna (aufwuchs) for nutrient. Well adjusted individuals grow to accept all forms of prepared and fresh foods; however they should be offered some green foods especially on a daily basis. Few offerings will improve vigor and color than the occasional "live rock" with algae growing on it.

Disease: Infectious, Parasitic, Nutritional, Genetic, Social

Dwarf angels are susceptible to the common parasitic scourges of ich (Cryptocaryon), and velvet disease (Amyloodinium), and unfortunately sensitive to conventional treatment (copper with or w/o formalin formulations). Alternate dip/bath, biological cleaners, and other treatments are called for should your quarantine, maintenance procedures fail.

Nutritional disorder like HLLE (head and lateral line erosion) are best combated via vitamin supplementation, inclusion of fresh (blanched) greens, and water quality consideration through filtration and water changing.

A condition, "dwarf angel bloat" in newly imported Centropyge appears to be an edema brought on by decompression trauma, and/or secondary bacterial infection associated with the same (especially where a thin needle is employed for expediting gas bladder deflation). Quarantine and oral administration or injection of antibiotics are the most efficacious interventions.

Other Biology of Note:

There are two tang (family Acanthuridae) mimics of dwarf angels that seem to benefit from predator's knowledge of Centropyges fin and opercular spininess. Acanthurus pyroferus surprisingly enough, shows up looking like one of three Centropyge; C. heraldi, C. flavissimus, or C. vroliki. As young, the Indian mimic surgeonfish A. tristis is the spitting image of Eibl's dwarf angelfish, C. eibli. Look for these mimics mislabeled at your dealers (they have the usual "tang" or opercular spine on their gill cover), they are not all that uncommon.

Lastly a note regarding these fishes propensity for sound production; yes they're noisy. A grunting, rattling sound has been heard from Centropyge, probably originating from a grinding of teeth.

In Closing:

What is central to dwarf angelfish keeping? First of all picking out a suitable species and individual(s). Preparing a decor-filled system of maximum size. Remember also, to include greens in their daily diet (blanched broccoli, spinach, Nori, live algae), and not to be too fastidious about cleaning their system.

They may not be as dramatic as the larger Pomacanthids, but the dwarf angels of the genus Centropyge are lacking nothing in beauty and interesting behavior.

Bibliography/Further Reading:


Allen, Gerald R. 1985 (3d ed.). Butterfly and Angelfishes of the World, v. 2. Aquarium Systems, OH. 352 pp.

Allen, Gerald, Roger Steene & Mark Allen. 1998. A Guide to Angelfishes & Butterflyfishes. Tropical Reef Research/Odyssey Publishing, Singapore/San Diego. 250pp.

Baensch, Frank. 2002. The culture and larval development of three pygmy angelfish species: Centropyge fisheri, Centropyge loriculus and Centropyge flavissimus. FAMA 12/02.

Baensch, Frank. 2003. Marine copepods and the culture of two new pygmy angelfish species. FAMA 7/03.

Baker, Donald E. 1983. Centropyge shepardi: a recently described pygmy angelfish from Guam. TFH 12/83.

Burgess, Warren E., Herbert R. Axelrod & Raymond E. Hunziker. 1990. Atlas of Aquarium Fishes Reference Book, v.2, Marine Fishes. T.F.H. Publications, Inc. NJ. 768pp.

Burgess, Warren E. 1991. Two new genera of angelfishes, family Pomacanthidae. TFH 3/91.

Campbell, Douglas G. 1983. Marines: their care and keeping; Centropyge: pts. 1,2. FAMA 3,4/83.

Carlson, Bruce A. 1985. Centropyge heraldi Woods & Schultz, 1953; An unusual variety from the Fiji Islands. FAMA 4/85.

Debelius, Helmut & Hans A. Baensch. 1994. Marine Atlas, v.1. MERGUS, Germany. 1215pp.

Emmens, C.W. 1972. Pacific angelfish. Marine Aquarist 3(1):72,

Emmens, C.W. 1985. Smaller Pacific angelfishes. TFH 6/85.

Fenner, Bob. 1995. My favorite dwarf angelfish, C. loriculus. FAMA 10/95.

Fenner, Robert M. 1998. The Conscientious Marine Aquarist. Microcosm, VT. 432pp.

Fenner, Robert. 1998. Perfect little angels (Centropyge). TFH 4/98.

Hemdal, Jay. 1989. Marine angelfish; color and style. AFM 8/89.

Howe, Jeffrey C. 1997. Original Descriptions (C. narcosis). FAMA 7/97.

Kosaki, Randall K. & Dean Toyama. 1987. Gold morphs in Centropyge angelfish. FAMA 7/87.

Kuhling, D. Undated. Centropyge, dwarf angelfish who must eat their greens! Aquarium Digest International #38.

Kuiter, Rudie H. & Helmut Debelius. 1994. Southeast Asia Tropical Fish Guide. Tetra-Press, VA. 321pp.

Michael, Scott W. Fishes for the marine aquarium; pts. 16 &17: Pygmy angelfishes- diminutive, but beautiful; Some possible pygmy angels for your marine tank. AFM 1,2/96.

Moenich, David R. 1987. Angel food; the most important single factor in keeping marine angels healthy is a varied diet. TFH 6/87.

Moenich, David R. 1988. Pygmy angelfishes: the genus Centropyge. TFH 1/88.

Moyer Jack T. 1989. On the blinding nature of experience; How many species of marine angelfishes are there? TFH 3/89.

Nelson, Joseph S. 1994. Fishes of the World. John Wiley & Sons, NY. 600pp.

Pyle, Richard L. & Randall K. Kosaki. 1989. The black-spot angelfish C. nigriocellus Schulz. FAMA 10/89.

Pyle, Richard L. 1990. The Japanese pygmy angelfish C. interruptus (Tanaka). FAMA 3/90.

Pyle, Richard L. 1992. A hybrid angelfish, C flavissimus x eibli. FAMA 3/92.

Pyle, Richard L. 1992. The peppermint angelfish C. boylei n.sp. Pyle and Randall. FAMA 7/92.

Pyle, Richard L. 1993. The golden angelfish- Centropyge aurantius- Randall and Wass. FAMA 11/93.

Randall, John E. & Anthony Nahacky. 1988. The keyhole angelfish. FAMA 4/88.

Steene, Roger C. 1985 (2d. ed.). Butterfly and Angelfishes of the World, v.1. (Australia). Aquarium Systems, OH. 144pp.

Stratton, Richard F. 1989. The bicolor angel. TFH 2/89.

Stratton, Richard F. 1994. Practical angels. TFH 9/94.

Takeshita, Glenn Y. 1976. An angel hybrid (C. flavissimus x C. vrolikii). Marine Aquarist 7:1,76.

Taylor, Edward C. 1983. Marine angelfishes- thinking small. TFH 5/83.

Thresher, R.E. 1984. Reproduction in reef fishes, pt. 3; Angelfishes (Pomacanthidae). TFH 12/84.

Wrobel, David. 1988. Dwarf angels of the genus Centropyge. SeaScope Spr. 88. 

To: Part. 1, Part 2,  

Angelfishes for  Marine Aquariums
Diversity, Selection & Care

New eBook on Amazon: Available here

New Print Book on Create Space: Available here

by Robert (Bob) Fenner
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