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Related FAQs: Chrysiptera Damsels, Damsel Identification, Damsel Selection, Damsel Compatibility, Damsel Feeding, Damsel DiseaseDamsel Reproduction

Related Articles: Damsels of the genus Chrysiptera, my fave group of Pomacentrids by Bob Fenner, The Damselfish family PomacentridaeChrysiptera talboti, The World's Best Reef Damsel

/A Diversity of Fishes

Chrysiptera, the Best Genus of Damsels for Reef Tanks (Even Nanos)


By Bob Fenner


            Amongst the thirty some thousand described species of fishes; most are unsuitable for our reef aquariums. The majority is found in freshwater… and of the marines, most of these get too large. Excluding ones that are too aggressive, just not attractive, we’re left with perhaps one to two thousand species of use; mostly blennies and gobies. Think about these fishes; they’re almost all bottom dwellers, and not terribly exciting behaviorally.

            Happily, there exists a few other fish groups of use; and one premiere genus is the topic of this article; the Chrysiptera (“Cry-Sip-Tear-Ah”) Damselfishes. These are small (not growing to more than 3 cm. in captivity), peaceful, non-polyp eating beauties (well; not all), of which a few are regular imports into the ornamental trade. Don’t be put off that these Damsels are in the same family as Stegastes, Dascyllus…. Damsels… Saltwater piranha equivalents! Chrysiptera species are the epitome of easygoing for the family.

            Of the thirty four described members of the genus Chrysiptera, you’re highly likely familiar with a few “blue” ones; as these are very often proffered as blue damsels, yellow-tail and other bluish demoiselles. Yes; and it can be confusing; there are other genera of Pomacentrids that share these common names. See the Chrysiptera species coverage below.

Chrysiptera Behavior:

            Most of the times, species of Chrysiptera are found near sand and rubble on the bottom near reef slopes. You will find them darting in and out, hovering near structure to duck into out of view and reach of predators. As far as getting along with their own species, Chrysiptera damsels, though not schooling like several Chromis species are found in groups in loose association. They are not nearly as territorial as some other Pomacentrids like Sergeant Majors (Abudefduf spp.), or the uber aggressive Stegastes. Chrysiptera are found in close association with conspecifics, usually a foot or two from other specimens of their species that they swim toward and away to maintain “personal space” and feeding area.

Chrysiptera Compatibility:

            These are archetypal small reef fishes; getting along with all types of polyps, corals, and other macro-invertebrate livestock, fishes that get along with them. The usual suspects, big basses and wrasses, piscivorous eels, triggerfishes… will eat them; as will large-enough crabs, hermits, lobsters.

Chrysiptera Selection:

            Finding and buying healthy specimens is key to success with these little Pomacentrids. Look carefully at all your dealer’s specimens for signs of damage and reclusive behavior. Fit Chrysiptera are alert and interacting with each other; not having private parties elsewhere in the system. Cut marks and split fins are bad signs that may portend the loss of the entire batch.

            Though they can live solo, having a small group of a given species (or more if the system is hundreds of gallons) is far more interesting and likely comforting to these fishes.

Chrysiptera Care:

            These little Damsels appear fragile due to their diminutive proportions, large eyes and bright colors; but they are tough fishes given a few requirements. First and foremost they need a similar habitat to what they inhabit in the wild: a mix of sand and broken rubble or stacked rock to dive into out of the way.

            Secondly is the requirement of not having too large or rambunctious tank mates. Other small, slow moving fishes and invertebrates suit them just fine.

            Lastly are reef conditions in terms of water quality and movement. These are for sure reef-associated animals; and they appreciate a lack of accumulated metabolite, high dissolved oxygen and steady, elevated oxidation reduction potential (RedOx) as all tropical reef life. 


Chrysiptera Principal Species:

            There are thirty four total scientifically described species in the genus, and some get bigger and meaner than the faves I’ll list here. If your stockist doesn’t have them on hand; don’t be shy! The more folks ask for and special order new species, the better chance that they’ll become readily available.





Chrysiptera bleekeri (Fowler & Bean 1928), Bleeker's Damsel. Western Central Pacific; Timor, Flores (and this report of Lombok), Indonesia and the Philippines. To about three inches in length. Photos made in N. Sulawesi, Indonesia.


Chrysiptera cyanea (Quoy & Gaimard 1825), the Blue Devil/Damsel. Likely the most commonly used member of the Damsel family by the aquarium interest. Western Pacific over to the bare eastern edge of the Indian Ocean. To two and a half inches maximum length. Females with a dark spot/band over their nose, males have orange yellow on fins. Aquarium specimens shown. 





Chrysiptera galba Allen & Randall 1974, the Canary Demoiselle. South Central Pacific. To two and a half inches in length. A beauty that should be imported more frequently. This one in an aquarium.






Chrysiptera hemicyanea (Weber 1913), the Azure Demoiselle. 7 cm.. Indo-West Pacific; Eastern Indian Ocean, Indonesia. Aquarium image.





Chrysiptera parasema (Fowler 1918), the Yellow-Tail Blue Damsel. Contending for first place as "most used member of the family of Damselfishes". From the western Pacific. To two and a half inches.  Hardy and relatively easygoing. One in an aquarium


Chrysiptera rollandi (Whitley 1961), Rolland's Demoiselle. Indo-Australia Archipelago. To a mere one and three quarters inch in length. A juvenile in Pulau Redang, Malaysia, and adult in Raja Ampat, N. Sulawesi. 





Chrysiptera starcki (Allen 1973), Starck's Demoiselle. Western Pacific; Noumea to Queensland to Japan. To nearly two and a half inches. A beautiful reef-associated Damsel, though best kept one to a tank. This one photographed in Raja Ampat.







My favorite captive reef Damsel of any kind, Chrysiptera talboti (Allen 1975), Talbot's Damsel. Indo-West Pacific. To about two inches maximum length. A great little Damsel for reef aquariums. Regularly collected for the ornamental trade in Fiji. Australian. N. Sulawesi image


Chrysiptera unimaculata (Cuvier 1830), the One spot Demoiselle. Indo-west Pacific, Red Sea. Highly variable in markings, color, from east coast of Africa to Fiji. This juvenile in Raja Ampat and sub-adult in the Maldives. To three inches overall in length. Imported as juveniles that turn overall brownish with age.



            Definite pairs form at times; they are egg layers (oviparous) with the males guarding and aerating nests of demersal, sticky eggs, adhering to the bottom.


            So; not all Damsels are terrors out of H, e, double hockey sticks. Chrysiptera species are by and large about as mellow as you can get Pomacentrid-wise. If you have a small reef system, or a large, even super big one of peaceful setting, do consider the Chrysiptera; they’re hardy, beautiful and interesting behaviorally.

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