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FAQs about Marine Angelfish Behavior

Related Articles: Marine AngelsThe Ultimate Angelfish Aquarium; An amazing and challenging collection of marine angelfishes by Peter Giwojna, 

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Healthy angelfishes are outgoing, curious about their world. 

Angelfishes for  Marine Aquariums
Diversity, Selection & Care
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by Robert (Bob) Fenner

Angel Oddness, SW, beh.      8/30/12
Just curious about some behavior I observed between my angels last night. They had squirreled themselves away in a hole and were swimming around each other in the tight confines. First my African Flameback (Centropyge acanthops)
would swim on its side and vibrate, then swim in a circle around the Cream (Apolemichthys xanthurus). Then they would change it up. The African Flameback would be still and the Cream would swim on its side, quiver, and then swim in a circle around the Flameback. Over and over again, they alternated this strange behavior. There was no nipping or chasing, just this bizarre little back and forth dance. It went on for about 5 minutes, and then they both just swam away and went on about their individual business.
Have you ever seen or heard of this before? Have any ideas as to what could be going on?
<Mmm, have heard of, seen on several occasions... reproductive in nature mainly... displays... IF there was to be some release of gametes, both would swim upward/toward the surface. Bob Fenner>
Meagan D.

Passer Angel question and more   1/3/07 Hi guys, <W and K> I have a strange question about my Passer Angel.  He has a very strange habit that is also very cute, but I want to make sure it's not harming him. He likes to be scratched.  I have a tooth brush attached to a very flexible feed stick.  When I put this in the tank he comes running!  He'll let me scratch him on one side and then turn around for me to do the other side.  I get tired of it before he does!  I know I'm not scratching him hard because of the flexibility of the feed stick, but wanted to make sure I'm not doing any harm; perhaps to his slime coat……………This is the funniest thing to watch! What do you think? <I do think this is a pleasurable activity for both of you... As you're likely aware, there are quite a few "cleaner" organisms... that really pick and pull with some strength... in the wild> Also, I sent in a question that I didn't get a response to, and was wondering if it got lost in email heaven? <We can only hope... but, yes, we're having some missing mails now!>   I'm including the text of that message as well.  This is a great site and I thank all of you for all the help you provide!!!!  I'll tell on myself here.  I did find a couple of misspelled words and have done my best to correct them.  Spell check only works if you don't spell bad enough to make it another word!!!  Happy New Year! <Heeeeee! Thank you, Bob Fenner> Thanks, Kathy

Emperor Angel Breathing   2/14/06 Crew- Can you ballpark me for roughly how many gill respirations per minute are within "normal" range for an emperor angel? <Likely 30-60 depending on what it's doing, has been doing> I have a 4" juvenile owned for six months. Something just seems up with the fish, it seems visibly agitated in its behavior (no other fish to induce such agonistic behavior -- no water quality issues, it is in a stable setup that has been up for 1yr+; temp 76, ammonia and nitrite are zero, nitrate less than 10ppm), but manifests no visible signs of parasites or other maladies of the gills. With such little info for you or I to go on, what type of treatment would be prudent to pursue? <None...> Please be specific. Please trust that I am not paranoid, and go with the assumption that something is indeed wrong with the fish's respiration. <I'd assume nothing is wrong with it... this species, most Pomacanthids do "just" breath oddly at times...> I know this is an active fish, but even at rest something is up. I do not want to yank this fish out the display and treat in QT unnecessarily any more than you want me to. But I am of the mind that if I continue to wait and wait the issue will hit a critical point and nosedive beyond my control. I understand these fish naturally bear a parasite load, but respiratory ailments I am loathe to regard with ambivalence. you all are the best (and your advice is free no less)! Thank you for your time. Craig <I would take a cautious approach here... unless there is some dire reason to "fool with" this animal, leave it be. Bob Fenner>

Emperor Angel behavior   1/26/06 Hi Crew, I have a gorgeous Emperor Angel ( 7" adult) that has been the dominant fish in my FOWLR since introduced 6 months ago.  The fish is aggressive, yet likes to hide a lot.  It frequently makes grunting noises with its swim bladder as a sign of aggression.  It was feeding aggressively until 2 days ago.  After a water change there was a bit of a live rock slide in the tank that did not injure any of the inhabitants.  I did my best to rearrange things back to their original shapes but had to readjust things 24 hrs later.  I notice that these fish absolutely learn their surroundings to such an extent that even this modest change resulted in some very inquisitive behavior in learning the new surroundings. <Yes> All of the inhabitants have finally adjusted but my Emperor still seems to be hiding quite a bit and comes out to look at food but does not feed.  I see no external signs of disease in any of the fish.  Others are feeding OK. Any suggestions ???? Is this type of behavior common ? Thanks Jimmy <Is common. I would not be overly concerned here. This fish will feed, adjust soon. Bob Fenner>

Stocking question and angel noises  01/01/2006 Hello, and thanks for all the excellent info on this site!  I have a question about stocking my tank.  I have been keeping fish for about 10 years so I am not a newbie, but I greatly respect another point of view, and yours more than most.  Here goes with the system info.  My system is a 100 gallon with 29 gallon sump.  Equipment includes a Turboflotor skimmer, UV sterilizer, 4 x 65w power compact, 2 x T5 bulbs.  About 200 pounds of live rock are in the tank and sump (hard to keep track over the years!)  The rock forms a wall from floor to top of tank with many, many caves for all the fish to swim through, however about ? of the tank is free off all rock so that the fish can swim then entire length of the tank in the open if they wish.  Inverts include 2 blood shrimp, 1 skunk cleaner, 1 coral banded shrimp, blue Linckia sea star, a large brittle star, many mushrooms and numerous hermits and snails.  Fish include a bi-color blenny, long nose hawk, royal Gramma, a pygmy angel (Centropyge argi),  blue tang (Paracanthurus hepatus, 5"?), Purple Tang 6"?, an unknown fairy wrasse, possibly a Cirrhilabrus solorensis, a yellow Coris wrasse, Halichoeres chrysus, 2 maroon clowns, mated pair, and the big daddy of them all, a changing juvenile Imperator angel, 5"?.   The long-term game plan is to move the tangs, hawk, clowns (the female is rather large) and large angel to a 150 or 200 gallon tank in the next year or so and make the 100 gallon more of a reef" tank with the smaller fish.  I have had the yellow Coris, clowns, and blue tang for at least 3 years and the rest of these fish for about a year, starting off in a 55, then a 75, now the 100 that they are in.  You know how this hobby does that to your wallet! <Oh yes> I have chosen these fish carefully for compatibility, and they get along great.  The tangs and large angel swim together most of the time, and everyone else just ignores everyone else.  The large female clown has a hissy if the yellow Coris gets into her territory, which is very rare since the Coris likes to swim in the open and the clown likes a particular cave.  I have two Bulb anemones in this tank's future to keep her aggression down.  She was a VERY docile creature when she had her long tentacle anemone, however the anemone preferred the sand substrate to root in and did not get enough light to survive, which is why I am going to find some bulb anemone for the clowns which prefer the rock to root in, which is should put them much higher up in the tank closer to the lights - right? <Hopefully, yes> I followed the X inch per fish per X gallon rule I learned somewhere from some website or book sometime in the past, and as of right now, I am ok with my stocking levels according to that formula.  I know that I WILL have to get a larger tank as the tangs and angel grow larger, but my wife just HAD to have the blue tang and we all know how big they can get!  Not that I am complaining about getting a bigger tank? Do you see anything that I could possibly add to the tank? <Not at this point... I would hold off till there is more room... the occasion at the time for mixing/blending something in> I was thinking about a Jawfish or shrimp goby and pistol shrimp combo.  My wife is partial to Firefish but I told her that was a bad idea with the hawk, large angel and large clown.  Or should I remove some of the smaller fish (Gramma and/or pigmy angel) to my 12 gallon nano with only corals in it?   I really want to get a small dog-face puffer, Arothron nigropunctatus, if I remove the shrimp would that be ok?  I don't mind if I lose a few hermits or snails to him.  I probably already know the answer to this but I have to ask.  Sorry.   <Patience my friend. You're topped off currently... in need of more room, not more livestock> Personally I think I did a pretty good job picking these guys for compatibility but what do you think? <A good mix>   Since I have had these fish for quite some time, I have grown quite attached to them and their personalities, and as much as I would like to see more life in there I would also hate to upset the balance I have by adding anything else.   <Then I would not> My other question is about my changing imperator angel.  He makes noises. Lots of strange grunting, low frequency noises.  He seems to have one for Hi, how are you doing, you going to feed me?  He also has a rather sharp sounding one for anyone that ticks him off, a kind of get out of my way grunt-noise.  When you DO put some food in there for him you get a strange excited clicking/grunting kind of noise.   I have researched all over the web and have found no reference to angels making these noises.   <The larger angels are quite audible... and do, as you state, have a large vocabulary... Have heard them in tanks as well as in the wild> The first couple of times I heard these strange noises I about tore my sump apart looking for a malfunctioning pump!  Have you heard of this?   Thanks in advance and you guys are great, keep up the good work. David <Thank you, will do. Bob Fenner>

One Gill Fish?  Or One Fish Gill?  Like Breathing With One Lung 10/7/05 In my many years of 'fishing' I have never seen this happen & could not find it on your (awesome) web site. <There are a few accounts of this there, of Pomacanthids> I noticed last night my Emperor Angel is only using one of his gills ! The left side appears to be closed (stuck?) <No... is "on purpose", sympathetic nervous control> He seems to be swimming and eating normally, at least for the time being. I don't know what could have caused this and is there anything I can do?? Don't want to stress the fish . Any advice is greatly appreciated . Thanks, Carol <"Don't panic" as Doug Adams might write... Will be fine. Bob Fenner> 
Re: One Gill Fish
Dear Mr. Fenner Methinks you are part fish. <Blooop! Heeeee!> Thanks to your advice and your (excellent) book my salt water hobby has jumped beyond ICH wipeouts (I learned quarantine) and for the past year I have totally enjoyed my aquarium. Just as you said my one gill fish has decided to use both gills and quite frankly I find the whole thing amazing! I am glad I did not freak out and try to 'operate' on my angel. Many Thanks, Carol PS: I think you should write another book <I think you should come out dive/adventure traveling with us... touch? Bob F> 

- Angel & Hermit Interaction - As an update and to share with others, the Angel died.  <Oh... am sorry to hear of your loss.>  Well, I euthanized it (freeze). Even though I watched it frequently I never saw the crab nip at the Angel (it's a pretty big crab). But I did notice that the Angel's anal fin (?) was a bit ragged. And later it was very much so. I am not sure it was the crab still, perhaps a disease/parasite and that's why he presented to the crab for a 'cleaning'. But after a couple of days I came home to him wedged into some coral nose down and puffing. Looked too far gone. My other established fish (oldest at 2 years) seem fine so far, so I guess this was just a stressed out fish.  <Yes, but do keep your eyes out for trouble... be watchful.>  I did not quarantine this time, and believe me you don't need to berate me more than I am myself.  <I believe you.> Thanks. <Cheers, J -- > 

- Pairing & Identifying Majestic Angels - Hello, I have a question regarding keeping (2) Majestic Angelfish, a male and a female, which, I was told by an employee of one of the LFS is possible, but from what I am reading (and probably should have been reading last week) about the Angelfish in general is that they are loners and do not get along with others for the most part, especially Angelfish of the same species.  <Actually, some of the larger angelfish hang out in pairs in the wild, including majestic angels.>  I assume this applies to attempting to keep a male and a female Majestic in the same tank?  <This would be a challenge.>  Or can it be done?  <It could be done... the fish would have to be caught as a pair, and generally speaking they don't pair up until later in life which means you'd have two very large angels.>  Which I attempting to do in a 75 gallon tank FOWLR, which I know is going to be too small in the long run, I do plan on getting a 220 gallon in the next 5-6 months from this same LFS.  <While this is an admirable plan - I too really like these angels - I would strongly advise you to wait until you have the 220 and even then, don't think it's large enough for a pair of large angels. More importantly is that like human couples, you can't just throw a male and a female in a box and expect them to pair by chance... there's more going on there. Would be expensive and difficult at best, and would almost certainly result in the loss of one, perhaps both if you try to force things in either the 75 or with an unmatched pair.> (Identifying:) The employee at the LFS attempted to help me identify my existing Majestic (3-4 inch juvenile) by the description I gave, a lot of orange coloration vs. yellow, which I was told meant that I probably had a female and the Majestic I looked at last week and ended up purchasing last night (4-5 inches) has mostly yellow vs. orange in coloration and I was told he was purchased as a male from their supplier.  <I could be wrong, but I've never heard of this system for identification for sex in these angels. What is more likely is that these have come from different geographic areas. There is a picture of a pair in the new Kuiter Angelfish book and I can't tell the difference between the two.>  But he also told me it is somewhat hard to tell what you have, a male or a female, when the fish are this age/size. So my question to you guys is as far as identifying the two fish as male/female, is this accurate information I was given, and is it too early in these fishes life to identify them?  <My first inclination is that it's not even remotely true, and even if it were true, I don't think it's reliable enough.> Thank you greatly for any info/help you can provide .(your site is great and an excellent source of information BTW) Erick <Cheers, J -- >

This Coral Beauty Is No Angel! (Aggressive Coral Beauty) Hey gang, <Scott F. here today!> First off, thank you!  My fiancé? and I started a 40gal. FOWLR 'community tank' about six months ago and there is no way it would have been such a success without the invaluable tips we've found on your website. <We're thrilled to have played a role in your success! Thanks!> So here's the problem: for the first few months the only two fish in the tank were a small Percula Clown and a Spotted Mandarin (plus inverts-- Cleaner Shrimp, Fire Shrimp, hermits and snails).  We recently added a Coral Beauty.  They've all been in the tank together for a about a week now (we had to treat the Coral Beauty for Ich in a 10gl. QT before adding it to the main tank). <Good procedure!> The Coral Beauty is doing great, but won't seem to stop nipping at the Mandarin.  Our Mandarin is the most laid-back, mind-your-business fish imaginable, but now he's being harassed. <Unfortunately, a Centropyge Angelfish will sometimes take a particular "dislike" to another fish, and this can go on for some time...> We stock the tank with copepods and supplement the mandarin's diet with live brine (which we fortify with phytoplankton).  The poor fish's appetite has been cut in half, and his anal fin looks like it's being nipped away. <Not good at all> Is there anything we can do to fix the problem without returning the Coral Beauty? <This is a tough problem. It really depends on the fish and it's "willingness" to get along with the other inhabitants. It is certainly possible that the fish will tire of harassing the Mandarin, but it may be too late before this happens. I wouldn't let it go on too much longer without intervening. It may be necessary to return the Coral Beauty in order for the Mandarin to survive! Good luck! Regards, Scott F.>

Breathing Question Hi, <Hi, MikeD here> I have a Singapore Angel, and it's left gill isn't working.  The fish seems fine, it eats like a horse, and swims around fine, but I'm not sure what the deal is. That gill was working a week ago. Any ideas? <There are several possibilities requiring widely differing courses of action, so your best bet is to observe the animal carefully before doing anything. Of course, check your water parameters as elevated ammonia or nitrite levels can cause irritation of the gill and  lack of use of the one side, along with either injury or infection.......if the first it may simply clear up on its own with partial water changes, while if the second, isolation and treatment for parasites or bacterial organisms will be required, as appropriate>.  Thanks, Paul
Fish Breathing Question
Thanks for the response.<You're welcome. MikeD here again>  A couple days after I wrote you, the gill started working fine again.<I suspected this is what would happen, but you may want to keep alert to a possible marine ick outbreak, just in case.  Many people tend to over-react and start dumping medications of one sort or another into a, sometimes THE tank without ever taking the time to even see if there is a problem, thus creating one.>   The water parameters were good.  I noticed he spent a lot of time down around the Cleaner Shrimp.  Maybe they helped him, but whatever it was went away, and he's fine now.<Again, congrats and keep smiling.>   Thanks, Paul

Angelic Hermaphrodites      I'm hoping you can help me answer this puzzle! My friend has a 65 gal marine tank with a captive mixed community.  In this tank she placed a male and female Genicanthus melanospilos.  The male acted very dominant in the tank.  She went on vacation and came back and found the female had been attacked, where she died shortly thereafter. Now, we've noticed the male has become much more calm and is actually changing into a female.  His coloring is completely  changing to match that of the female that had died. Why would this be happening?  I cannot find any info on this! Thanks, Suzanne >>>Hey Suzanne, As you know, Genicanthus angels are sequential  hermaphrodites, which means only 1 set of sexual organs is functional at any one time. Further, these angels are  protogynous hermaphrodites which means they develop into females first, with the possibility of changing into males later. Unlike clownfish for instance which are protandrous hermaphrodites in which they develop in to females first, with the possibility of later changing into males. In both cases, it's the dominant fish of the group that changes. When the dominant fish is removed, the next one in line steps up and becomes the male or female depending on which group we're speaking of.     So what does all that blabber mean? It means that normally what one would be witnessing with a Genicanthus angel is the opposite of what you are describing with this fish, and exactly what I would expect from a protandrous hermaphrodite such as a clown. Remember that males of certain species vary chromatically when a female is present. So, you may be witnessing a simple color shift given the absence of the female, a chromatic stress response, or less likely an actual wavering from male to female in this fish, which somehow I doubt.  Given that the remaining angel is dominant without question, there is no reason it should be changing into a female. Of course, you are the one witnessing the event! Some sequential hermaphrodites can change back and forth, gobies among them. I haven't heard of angels reverting back to female though once they've made the "change". I'll try and find further info on this and let you know.   Jim<<<

Quirky Swimmer, Marine Angel Good Morning Crew! Just a quick question.  I've got an emperor angel that swims on his side...kind of.  Maybe 20-30 degrees off vertical, been doing it since I got him three weeks ago.  He seems to be in great health.  Adult coloration, maybe 5 or so inches.  Eats like a teenage boy.  He's active and personable.  Should I be concerned?  Thanks! Scott Critter Cabana <Mmm, concerned for this animal's health, not likely, though it may be hard to sell. Likely it was "damaged in collection"... perhaps by mis "needling" (puncturing the gas bladder with a thin diameter syringe to facilitate rapid "decompression" from depth, or suffered some other gas bladder damage in too-rapid ascent. Sometimes (about half) these problems/traumas solve themselves (over weeks to months time), other times... the fish swim at an angle going forward. Bob Fenner>

- Blue Angel Behaviour - hi everybody , i have a blue angel that is about 5 inches, and he has been doing well for about some time from watching him in the store about three weeks and he has been with me for about 2 weeks...  my problem is he has started this shake of his head, and sometimes a shake of his tail hard, kind of like shivering, he has a spot on his tail looks like a parasite although i don't know its white, he has been getting cleaned by yellow cleaner goby yesterday i added a cleaner shrimp and 4 snails to see if the shrimp would take this spot away from him! so far the shrimp want nothing to do with him and the goby jumps on and off quickly! so I'm confused by the goby not wanting to eat this spot, if it is indeed a parasite. <It is likely not a parasite, but a viral infection known as Lymphocystis... not a big deal, will go away on its own.> i have a 75gallon tank - i have 80 pounds of live rock , a scooter blenny 1.5 inches, a chocolate chip star and a half inches a x-mas wrasse 3 inches, four small snails two cleaner gobies {one chases the other into hiding} <Yes, you have two of the same sex - this aggression will not change until one goes away.> will i be able to keep two gobies if this is the case? <Sure, although it's better to start with three, this way you are likely to get a male/female pair and then the third can go back to the store.> what is going on with my angel please help. <No worries - give the shrimp some time... it might tend to that spot in a while, but also quite likely the spot will go away on its own.> I'm a novice of 2 years - tank conditions, should be fine i run chem. pure {2 months old} i will check the water quality after work today though. <Running ChemiPure every once in a while is a good thing, but you can also run activated carbon... they both have similar action.> i bought formalin from LFS in case i need to use it. <Hold off on this... save for another day.> could this be some kind of internal bacteria that is making him shake. <No, the shaking behavior is normal, although it's hard to know exactly why fish do this - perhaps reacting to its reflection in the glass. No worries.> i use to feed Thera+A, Spirulina algae, angel formula, brine shrimp plus, any advice will be greatly appreciated. <Some meaty foods would be good too - Ocean Nutrition Prime Reef will be welcome by all.> and i know the angel needs to be in a bigger tank say 125 at least but for now? <For now, but not for long... start working on the upgrade.> the angel doesn't shake but every oh say 5 minutes and then he swims real calm . its puzzling me //// thanks john <Cheers, J -- >

Angelfish with Rapid Breath Hello, <Hi! Ryan Bowen with you today> I recently bought a personifer angelfish. about 4-5" with full colored face. Its currently in a 46gallon bow front QT tank, with a Fluval 304, and a 4 watt UV sterilizer. <Great to hear> Its swimming around normally, its breathing rapidly. I've had angelfish before and i know they breathe a little slower. Tank is fully cycled, there's only a trace of nitrates. Its not eating, but i only got it two days ago, so I'm not entirely worried... yet. I just want to know if there's something that i don't see is wrong. <Ammonia?  Also check for gill flukes.> I have black garbage bags that I've cut to make a makeshift "kelp forest" to ease its acclimation and to give it a sense of security. It doesn't appear to be stressed because it approaches the tank when i put my face near it, but the rapid breathing has me worried. <Yes, I'd be nervous as well> any insights would be greatly appreciated. Also i gave it a F/W bath before putting it into the tank. But like i said, it doesn't appear to be stressed except for the rapid breathing. well over 80 gill movements a minute. <I'd give him a few days, but keep an eye on water quality and gills for disease.  I'd execute daily water changes to keep things fresh in the QT.  Thanks, good luck! Ryan>

Angelfish Color Variations Hi- <Hi there! Scott F. with you today!> Do all Maculosus grow up to that pretty light blue? Or do some stay darker and look more like P. asfur as  an adult? Thanks guys ! <Many possible variations with these fishes. A friend of mine has an absolutely stunning P. maculosus that is a really deep blue. Like people, fish can vary in appearance based on genetics, water conditions, nutrition, geographic population, etc.> P.S.-My Moorish Idol is at 2yrs this month! Bart <Well, Bart- that is a very impressive achievement! Keep up the good work with this fish! Regards, Scott F.>

Hand-caught semicirculatus acting strangely... survival value? G'Day recently i caught a juvenile semicirculatus, about 2cm long (with my bare hands - no net - how clever am i!) and about 2 weeks later noticed it suddenly swimming erratically, almost as though it was paralyzed on one side, swimming towards the surface only to float back to near the bottom, bumped into my anemone twice during this then came to rest on its side on the gravel at the back of the tank - this all took about 1-2minutes. I was sure the fish was toast (despite seeming happy, fed & fat just prior) but gave it a poke - it struggled up and swam feebly to its favourite hiding spot & hovered - 1 minute later was swimming round the tank like nothing happened!!?? ever seen anything like this?? has been a month now and fish is as happy as ever! thanks Jeremy <I have heard and discussed the "acting gimpy" survival value of juvenile fishes with others... as well as the possibility that their "lack of neurological development" at small sizes, early age might account for these seemingly odd episodes... Does seem that "acting odd" might have some survival value... in that predators might not recognize you as a prey item, or de-select you as one unfit to consume. What do you think? Bob Fenner>
Semicirculatus behavior... theories
That's an interesting theory - I have a few problems with it though. 1. I chased the fish for 2 hours when catching it and it didn't exhibit this behaviour. 2. As all good fishermen know, an injured fish is a tasty fish (to larger fish) <Not necessarily. I can cite many examples of predators avoiding prey that is exhibiting odd behavior> 3. Swimming into a large anemone can't be pleasant - my fish did it twice in a minute. I'm going to go with the neurological theory. Maybe he had a transient ischemic event or something??

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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