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/A Diversity of Aquatic Life

Flame On! My Favorite Dwarf Angelfish, Centropyge loricula

Bob Fenner

A Flame in captivity

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

A member of the marine angelfish family and a readily available species amongst thirty-some in the genus Centropyge, the flame is an ideal captive specimen. It reaches a maximum of five inches in length, adapts well to aquarium life and has actually gotten to be reasonably inexpensive in the last few years.

Centropyge loricula (Gunter 1874), the Flame Angel (1), is a staple in the ornamental marine trade, with some 5,000 individuals collected and sold worldwide every week. Western to central Pacific Ocean.

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Natural Range

Scattered reef areas in the tropical central to western Pacific; Hawaii, Society Islands, Australia, New Guinea, Philippines, Guam...

Selection: General to Specific

It is important at times to stress the danger of (over)generalization; some species of Centropyge are incredibly hardy as a rule, others not so, and in the flame we have a species with a high degree of variability in terms of aquarium suitability/toughness. This relativity is positively correlated with capture, holding, and transport technique/practices which is more or less associated with country and source of origin. Follow me on this: In order of consideration I rank these three arenas in order of importance:

First I would sort/discriminate yes/no regarding purchasing a specimen on the basis of:

1) Physical appearance. Under stress these angel species are highly susceptible to Brooklynella and Oodinium (Amyloodinium) infections. The former looks like white, clumpy gunk on body and fins, the latter is typical tan to blackish small dusty-dots over the entire fish. See below under Disease:, concerning prevention and treatment. Torn fins, bulbous eyes, genetic anomalies rule out an individual as well.

2) If the prospective specimens pass the physical appearance inspection, next I examine their behavior carefully(!). Healthy animals are alert, aware of their environment including you. Avoid pale, washed-out individuals, erratic swimming, rapid, shallow breathing and clamped fins. You should not be able to "reach out and touch one" without it seeking shelter.

3) Last in consideration is the "rule of thumb" for origin. The flame is collected and imported from several areas. Hawaii has a limited market in deep water and therefore expensive specimens. The Philippines are a mixed lot with some shipments being exemplary, others absolute garbage. The best, consistent orders I've received directly or not have hailed from Christmas and Marshall Islands collectors. There are more and more new and moving people to buy from. Keep your eyes open.

Environmental: Conditions


Size of system: Often touted as a species and group as desirable on the merits of being able to be crammed into small (thirty and less gallons!) quarters, I advise against it. Individuals vary tremendously in their tolerance of tankmates. Close observation and quick reaction to overt aggressive behavior is the rule, even in very large aquaria. Chasing and nipping, especially other dwarf angels, particularly of the same size and/or species, is to be expected; being torn and cowered is to be avoided. Provide lots of caves, hiding, escape-sites. If you have more than one individual or dwarf angel species separate the physical sites into at least two independent "reef" areas.


Natural or synthetic water with a mid-specific gravity (the low 1.020's is fine. Mid seventies to low eighties as far as temperature. Resistance or at least tolerance to end point nitrogenous poisoning is noted by Campbell. Metabolite removal by chemical filtrants and protein skimming is de rigueur. pH should never drop below 8.0.

These fishes appreciate considerable water movement. Turn up those power heads and/or power filters.


Most any type that works is fine; suggested: outside power in combination with vigorous power-head driven undergravel, or better still, a full-on "algae tank" (yes, on purpose) with wet-dry, little substrate, lot's of light, and of course, "liverock" galore.


Lots of broken rubble with small caves only the angels can get in and out of.

 Behavior: Territoriality

Can be extensive and severe. See notes below re.


The initial minutes to hours of introduction are critical. The same old bag of tricks apply as with generic territoriality: move decor about to disorient resident organisms, feed small amounts of foods frequently, extend the photoperiod (leave the lights on) for a day...

Predator/Prey Relations

Dwarf angels are known prey items for many larger reef fishes. Hence their inquisitive, alert, darting, secretive behavior and appeal/appropriateness as aquarium specimens. Be wary of placing them with large predaceous species, e.g. big triggers, groupers/basses, Lionfishes...

Correspondingly, timid species and eminently chewables (anemones, feather dusters) should not be placed with them as they will become fodder for chase and taste. Dwarf angels are best introduced into communities last or close to it.

Reproduction, Sexual Differentiation:

This species, and most other dwarf angels investigated, are synchronous protogynic hermaphrodites: They start out sexually undifferentiated, develop into females, and under growth and social stimuli develop into males with one or more females in their territorial harem.

Males are typically larger and more and brighter reddened.

I agree with Campbell's statement that Centropyge loricula are fine as solitary specimens. They spawn in pairs at dusk in the wild. Actual spawning behavior as per Centropyge tibicen, is described and illustrated in Thresher's article cited below. There is a short "dance", the male first rises then the female, gametes are shed into the environment where they float off to development or oblivion.

Inter-species hybrids are known (Pyle).

The species has been bred in captivity with some young being raised to small size.

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

Dwarf angels, unlike their larger brethren are notably not as dependent on sponge materials for nutrition. Algae are very important, making upwards of half their total intake by volume. If you don't/can't provide this by growing in situ, dry, prepared, frozen and fresh green foods have proven efficacious. As your pocketbook and skills permit, some purchased or "cultured" liverock is a very good idea, allowing self-feeding on demand with low risk of pollution. If your dwarf angels lose color, weight, apparent interest in feeding, buy them a piece of algae ridden rock or if you have one, move them to a "live-reef" tank for at least temporary rehabilitation. Rinsed spinach is acceptable if that's all that is available, but greens should be offered/available every day.

Rarely does a healthy specimen refuse food. Make sure there's not a titanic struggle going on between tankmates. An opened fresh or frozen shellfish placed near their home turf sometimes does wonders.

Disease: Infectious, Parasitic, Nutritional, Genetic, Social

Almost always imported with at least the beginnings of protozoan problems. Irrespective of what prevention and treatment regimen has been exercised before, you should at least run your new arrivals through a prophylactic freshwater (adulterated possibly with formalin or other toxin(s)) dip/bath for a good ten minutes to knock off or at least down, Brooklynella & Glugea.

Be prepared to administer copper compounds to exorcise those marine scourges Amyloodinium and Cryptocaryon.

My best advice is the requisite two week quarantine after dipping, before placing in with other livestock in a more permanent "home". Additionally, I want to "plug" the use of biological cleaners as ecto-parasitic controls. Wrasses, gobies and the various shrimps employed for this use are very appropriate technology.


The flame angel is one of the most beautiful, hardiest and long-lived of dwarf angels, indeed of captive marine species. Coupled with it's small size, lower and lower cost due to increased collection activity, and ease of solitary captivity, the flame is a premiere prospective aquarium species.

Bibliography/Further Reading:

Anon. 2002. First flame angelfish raised entirely in captivity at Oceanic Institute. FAMA 5/02.

Allen, G. 1979. Butterfly & Angelfishes of the World. Vol. II. John Wiley & Sons, New York.

Campbell, Douglas G. 1983. Marines: Their Care and Keeping: CENTROPYGE: Part One & Two. FAMA 3,4/83.

Kuhling, D. Centropyge, dwarf angelfish who must eat their greens. Aquarium Digest Intl. (A.D.I.) #38, undated.

Pyle, Richard L. 1992. Rare and Unusual Marines: Centropyge loriculus x potteri. FAMA 8/92.

Thresher, R.F. 1984. Reproduction in reef fishes, part 3. T.F.H. 33(4):8 

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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