Please visit our Sponsors

Related FAQs: Clarion Angelfish, Passer/King Angels, Baja/Trop. E. Pacific Angelfishes, Marine Angelfishes In General, Selection, Behavior, Compatibility, Health, Feeding, Disease,   

Other Regional Accounts of Marine Angels: Red Sea, Caribbean, Maldives

Related Articles: Clarion Angels, Passer/King Angels, The Marine Angelfish family, Pomacanthidae, Best for Aquarium Use

/Appropriate Marine Selections

Three Amigo Angels From Baja

By Bob Fenner

An old Passer in the Galapagos

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

Holacanthus passer 

Pomacanthus zonipectus

Holacanthus clarionensis

Passer or King Angel, Adult, Cabo

Cortez Angel, Adult, Loreto

 Clarion Angel, Adult, Socorro Isl.

Holacanthus passer 

Pomacanthus zonipectus

Holacanthus clarionensis

Passer or King Angel, Juvenile

Cortez Angel, Juvenile

 Clarion Angel, Juvenile, Socorro Isl.

Bigger PIX:
The images in this table are linked to large (desktop size) copies. Click on "framed" images to go to the larger size.

Three striking angelfishes, two of moderate cost, one astronomical, hail from the Sea of Cortez (aka the Gulf of California) and further south. These amigo species are spunky and hardy, making good personality/center pieces for larger aquaria.

Their habitats, behavior and nutrition are similar enough to allow us to discuss all three together; and all are increasingly available to the hobby in the West.

Classification: Taxonomy, Relation With Other Groups

The angelfishes (Family Pomacanthidae) and closely related butterflyfishes are not as well represented on the West side of Mexico as on the East:

These families should be very familiar to you. Many of their members grace our marine aquaria; and rightly so. Several species make undemanding, sturdy captives, accepting prepared foods, resisting environmental, infectious and parasitic disease, being beautifully marked and behaviorally extroverted.

Look at the photos of the three angels offered here. Don't they look awfully similar as juveniles and adults to those on the Caribbean side of Mexico? Oh, it just seems like a million years ago the isthmus which is Central America was below sea level... the semi-matching East-West look-a-likes are termed sibling species.

The Players:

The Cortez angel, Pomacanthus zonipectus (Gill, 1863). Compare with the sympatric Caribbean species, the French angel P. paru and gray angel P. arcuatus. Undergoes a striking color transformation juvenile to adult; young with alternating yellow and iridescent blue curved bars, with age replaced with brownish-gray background with broad yellow and black bars.

The King (as opposed to the Caribbean Queen) or Passer (as in the bird, sparrow, not passer's) angel, Holacanthus passer Valenciennes 1846. Young have a series of alternating light and bright blue bars with a broad band of orange-red behind the eyes. Compare with the juveniles of the queen (H. ciliaris) and blue angels of the Caribbean.

Holacanthus passer Valenciennes 1846, the King or Passer Angelfish (1). Juveniles act as cleaners of other fishes. To about nine inches in length. A great, hardy fish for a large marine system. Mid Sea of Cortez on down the Pacific coast to the Galapagos. Two inch one in Cabo, four inch juvenile in the Galapagos, an adult in Cabo, Mexico, and an old individual in the Galapagos.
Bigger PIX:
The images in this table are linked to large (desktop size) copies. Click on "framed" images to go to the larger size.

Clarion angels, Holacanthus clarionensis are almost identical to Kings' in color and markings with one notable exception; the head of the King angel is yellow and the head and tail of the clarion is bright orange. Adult clarions add up to their naming, they are brilliant to glowing orange trimmed with bright blue.

Location, Location, Location

The King and Cortez angelfishes are found from the Upper Gulf of Baja on down the coast of the tropical eastern pacific. The clarion angel is more restricted, observed occasionally near the southern apex of Baja, Cocos Island off Costa Rica and Clipperton, but most often collected from the volcanic islands collectively called the Islas Revillagigedos, @250 miles southwest of Baja.

The Sea of Cortez, for all you geography bugs is the southerly extension of that troublesome earthquake-consequent split, the San Andreas Fault.


All three of these angels achieve about a foot in total length, and need room to grow in anticipation of largeness. Most individuals offered are in an appropriate range of two to six inches.

Selection: General to Specific

As for all fishes, select a well fleshed specimen; one without a thin head or pinched belly. Hold out for an individual that's not too small (less than two inches) or too large (generally about half a foot).

Other than blatant signs of ill-health, i.e. torn fins, poor color, obvious disease effects, the most important consideration in screening possible purchases is their behavior: friendliness and eating. Happily, these species are collected in areas and by means that exclude poisons and explosives. They are typically, extremely hardy, indeed outgoing, even on arrival. For those only acquainted with damaged and jet-lagged Indo-Pacific angels you're in for a pleasant surprise.

The question of whether and what your specimen will eat must be addressed before buying. Ask that it be fed in front of you, place a deposit, if possible and come back a few days later to see feeding re-demonstrated. This is sage (and very expensive) advice for the acquisition of any big dollar livestock.

Collecting Your Own

Can be done if you find yourself in the area. You need a fishing license of the country in question, the requisite gear for catching and transportation and to remember the "magic words": "for your personal consumption" (that is, not for sale to others).

The most productive technique is to follow an individual until in holes up in the rocks and "spook" it from the site with a "poker" into your well-positioned net over the most likely exit.

Environmental: Conditions, Habitat

These are rocky shore "reef" fishes, so provide as many nooks and crannies as possible. All your specimens will be happier and healthier.


The alkaline reserve and pH of the system is a good indicator of overall water quality. Keep the latter above 8.0 by frequent, partial water change and you will not go wrong. Temperature and specific gravity are not critical issues with the amigo angels; these are variable and range widely in their wild environs.


May be important. These are large, active messy-eaters and defecators. More water motion than less is advised.


Are you looking for fishes with personality? You've found them. Can you spell individual? In a matter of days your angel will have the tank and you totally wired and figured out.


These angels are feisty with other members of their own kind, other angels and other similarly marked fishes. They are solitary and fiercely territorial on the reef as adults so be forewarned. Either one to a tank, two with a large size difference and/or plenty of hiding spaces. As usual, there is no substitute for your own close observation.


Should follow standard operating procedure with the following admonitions: 1) Watch your specimen, 2) Watch your specimen, 3) Watch your specimen. For what? That it's not getting too stressed-out from being in quarantine alone. That it's not chasing or being chased to death. That it's eating.

Do run incoming specimens at least through a freshwater bath to knock down undesirable microbe and parasite introduction.

Reproduction, Sexual Differentiation/Growing Your Own:

None of the tres amigos angel species has been spawned in captivity, but some of their kissing cousins in the Atlantic have. They apparently form pairs and have been observed spawning seasonally in similar manner; gametes shed in unison toward the surface, planktonic eggs floating with the current. See Thresher and Stratton pieces offered in the bibliography for more.

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

Like most of their family, these fishes are grazers and pickers. In the wild they consume small organisms; sponges make up the largest part, with worms, sea squirts, corals and their relatives making up the bulk of the rest.

Smaller angels eat a considerable amount of algae and are known to be facultative (take it or leave it, i.e. non-obligate) cleaners, removing parasites and necrotic tissue from other fish species.

Most individuals of these three angels can be successfully trained on easy to procure foods. Frozen pet-fish mixes, fresh aquarium and "human"-grade seafoods such as shrimp, clam, mussel, etc. and vegetable material from the oriental food section to frozen peas (sans additives). Having some growing material in the system itself is ideal, and these angels will munch most everything in a reef set-up.

Some writers suggest less frequent intervals, but I'd offer something twice a day for all sizes of angels.

Disease: Infectious, Parasitic, Nutritional, Genetic, Social

As members of their genera go, these three are tough. If they seem lethargic or grungy, I'd suspect diminished water quality first (and do a water change) and aggression second (did I mention you should keep an eye on your angel?)

Manipulating salinity, raising pH are often enough to correct any apparent malaise. Bad cuts and secondary infections are easily treated with the antibiotic erythromycin (Maracyn). These angels have no great sensitivity to copper compounds, but may go off-feeding for a while consequently.


With the United States being where it is with NAFTA going for hobbyists, the desire of the Mexicans to develop their natural resources in a conscientious, sustainable way, the tres amigo angels should have a tremendous upside to rich norteamericanos. Give them consideration when you're looking for a hardy, character for a large marine set-up.

Bibliography/Further Reading:

Axelrod, Herbert R. & Cliff W. Emmens. 1982. Exotic Marine Fishes. T.F.H. Publications, N.J..

Campbell, Douglas. 1981. Marines: Their Care & Keeping; Holacanthus-Apolemichthys, Pts. I & II, 3,4/81.

Chlupaty, Peter. 1982. Cortez Angelfish. Tropical Fish Hobbyist. 7/82.

Hemdal, Jay. 1989. Marine Angelfish, Color & Style. Aquarium Fish Magazine, 8/89.

Kerstitch, Alex. 1981. Cortez Angelfish, Pomacanthus zonipectus. Freshwater and Marine Aquarium, 10/81.

Moenich, David. 1987. Angel Food. Tropical Fish Hobbyist, 6/87.

Moenich, David. 1990. Marine Angelfish: Holacanthus. Aquarium Fish Magazine, 8/90.

Stratton, Richard. 1988. The King Angel, Holacanthus passer. Tropical Fish Hobbyist, 8/88.

Stratton, Richard. 1992. The Cortez Angelfish. Tropical Fish Hobbyist, 7/92.

Stratton, Richard. 1994. Practical Angels. Tropical Fish Hobby-ist, 9/94.

Thomson, Don; Findley, Lloyd & Alex Kerstitch. 1979. Reef Fishes of the Sea of Cortez (The Rocky Shore Fishes of the Gulf of California). Wiley-Interscience.

Thresher, R.E.. 1984. Reproduction in Reef Fishes, Pt. 3 Angelfishes (Pomacanthidae). Tropical Fish Hobbyist, 12/84.

Weiss, Marc. 1986. The Cosmopolitan Clarion. Freshwater and Marine Aquarium, 9/86.

Here in the Galapagos

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
Become a Sponsor Features:
Daily FAQs FW Daily FAQs SW Pix of the Day FW Pix of the Day New On WWM
Helpful Links Hobbyist Forum Calendars Admin Index Cover Images
Featured Sponsors: