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The Lemon/y Dwarf Angels, the "True" Lemonpeel Centropyge flavissimus & "False" Lemonpeel C. heraldi (nee woodheadi)

Bob Fenner

A True Lemonpeel in Fiji

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

There are a handful of "more than half" yellow species of Centropyge/Dwarf Angels... but two that are most all Yellow... the aptly named Lemonpeel Angels. Before going further here, please allow a short dissertation re the distinction of these two species, the "true" Lemonpeel, C. flavissimus and "false" Lemonpeel, C. heraldi... Know that there are some significant color and marking differences within both species. The True Lemonpeel generally has some blue coloring about the eye, gill operculum and unpaired fin margins... which the False lacks... But the True Lemonpeel itself varies a bit over its range... Part of which extend saltatorily (as in "jumping") apart from the bulk of its distribution in the western Pacific... a distinct grouping can be found in the Indian Ocean at  Cocos-Keeling and Christmas Islands... that has blue within, but not around the eye (see a pic here: http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?cls=16&cat=1877&articleid=1985), and some range of images on Fishbase.org: http://fishbase.sinica.edu.tw/Photos/ThumbnailsSummary.php?ID=5457

    Not to be outdone, the False Lemonpeel has a bit of variation in color as well... with some populations sporting a dark marking, sometimes edged with blue, on the soft portion of their dorsal fins. At one point, such a distinguishing marking was suggested as a separate species, C. woodheadi. No longer.

Lemonpeel Angels on Parade!:

Centropyge flavissima (Cuvier 1831), the True or just the Lemonpeel Dwarf Angel. Look for and pay the extra-cost for Indian Ocean specimens (Christmas and Cocos-Keeling Islands); they are much more likely to live than western Pacific conspecifics. Centropyge heraldi, sometimes called the False Lemonpeel, is very similar, but lacks the True Lemonpeels blue markings. Pic of an adult in captivity.

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

Centropyge heraldi Woods & Schultz 1953, Herald's or the False Lemonpeel Angel, are overall yellow with a variable amount of black on their dorsal fins and behind the eyes (males), but never with the blue outline around the eyes of the "true" Lemonpeel, Centropyge flavissimus. Central and western Pacific Ocean. Aquarium and N. Sulawesi pix.

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

Centropyge woodheadi Kuiter 1998, Woodhead's Dwarf Angelfish, now a junior synonym for Centropyge heraldi, this "species" was described from Australia's Coral Sea. Below: Waikiki Aquarium photo of a specimen with an advancing case of HLLE and one in Fiji.

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


    Years back both these species were "golden", considered quite hardy, good-shippers... These days, it's important to "follow the rules" in careful selection and quarantine with these species... to assure having the best chances of long-term health. Lemonpeels are unfortunately not carte-blanche very healthy species in our interest. Both True and False species have a penchant for easy, mysterious loss...

    Know and select for source location. Ask around on the Net (the specialty BBs)... is Tony Nahacky shipping from Fiji? Buy quality.

    Look carefully for curious behavior, a total lack of puncture, bloody marks, missing scales... Many specimens are just too "beat" from capture, holding, shipping to rally. Leave them. On the same topic, do not buy "just arrived" or "midnight madness" in the bag specials of this or other Centropyge species... most losses occur within a day or two of arrival... to about a week in your dealers tanks.

    Quarantine... Here's that "Q" word again... place your new specimen by itself in a tank of healthy live rock for careful observation and rest for a few weeks. Though not as "reef disease" prone as some other Centropyges, you don't want to introduce a pathogen incidentally here.


    Like other members of the genus these Centropyges don't get along with congeners or con-specifics... unless a good deal of room for each is available. Are any Dwarf Angels reef safe? As individuals this is a proverbial crap-shoot, but the Lemonpeels are near the top in terms of generally leaving cnidarians alone.

    In terms of order of introduction, it's best to place the Lemonpeels last, as they can become quite territorial for their smallish size.


    Key characteristics for happy, healthy Lemonpeel habitats are: Large, Uncrowded and Plenty of Gaps/Swim-through Spaces. They spend most of their time on the reef darting in and out of openings in the substrate corals and rock-work. Having plenty of healthy established live rock will further supply needed foodstuffs and improved water quality. Three pounds of some types of live rock per gallon of system or so is not too much. Rather than continuous "wall" stacking, providing "bommies" of individual piles of rubble work out better to help these animals delineate territory and share.


    In te wild these Centropyges feed principally on detritus and algae. In captivity they can be trained onto prepared foods though Lemonpeels rarely feed initially, requiring a few days to sometimes a week or more before being seen to accept any prepared foods.

    As previously stated, well-established systems with plenty of healthy algal growth (filamentous and macro formats) go a long way to providing ongoing nutrition to Centropyge species.


    Like other Centropyges, the Lemonpeel Angels are sensitive to copper exposure. Hence, should your system, its livestock show signs of Crypt or Amyloodinium infestation, you're advised to use a chelated format of copper (not free copper solution) and keep threshold concentration at a minimum to prevent poisoning. Bolstering the fishs' immune systems with vitamin soaking and addition is also recommended. Note that these fishes are also susceptible to "Clownfish Disease" (Brooklynella hostilis), and so treatment of any indefinite apparent protozoan malady might best be done with formalin immersion or dipping.


    The True Lemonpeel has been successfully spawned and reared in captivity (Baensch 2002). As pointed out, fertile spawns resulting in good numbers of young require: Good, healthy, conditioned parents (careful selection and quarantine), extended light photoperiod and warm water (14-16 hours, 26-28 C.) and large volume settings of height (at least 55 gallons, 20" of rise to allow for spawning behavior), and, of course, good water quality. Food organisms required/used going through metamorphosis to settling info. is scarce, but wild zooplankton and culture Artemia have been of use. 


About Crosses: Yes, They Exist

Hybrids on parade! Here are some crosses between Centropyge flavissimus X Centropyge vroliki. As is oft-stated re "hybrid vigor" (heterosis), these crosses are even hardier, more ready-adapted to aquarium conditions than their "pure" parentage. (Takeshita 1976).

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

And a Bit re a Surgeon Mimic and Coincidental Look Alike to Lemonpeels

Acanthurus pyroferus Kittliz 1834, the Chocolate Surgeonfish. Indo-Pacific; Seychelles to the French Polynesia, down to the GBR. To ten inches in length. A successful mimic of three (four if you count C. vrolikii in Palau where C. flavissimus is absent and it mimics the other!) Centropyge Angels. Shown here as a wild type at right, mimics and similar-appearance in captivity below and below them, the Dwarf Angels that Acanthurus pyroferus most typically mimics; the true Lemonpeel, and the look-alike (though not mimetic) Herald's. Aquarium images.

Tang above, Centropyge flavissimus below Tang above, Centropyge heraldi below


    So... good looks, intelligent/comical behavior, and tolerable compatibility about sum up the proposition of keeping either of the Lemonpeels. They are definitely "not easy" fishes to secure good, clean specimens of, nor accommodate with their demands for space and nooks and crannies. However, if you can secure an initially clean specimen and meet its needs, these species can be kept long term (there are records of more than 11 years in captivity).

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.

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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.

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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