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Reef Safari!
Keeping Multibarred Angelfish

By Alexander Thomasser

( click images for full size picture )

For all Mac users out there -- no, I am not referring to your web browser! Instead, I’m writing about keeping zebras in your reef tank; how cool is that? Being a fan of striped fish, there is one species that stands out among all others: The Multibarred Angelfish Centropyge multifasciata, a dwarf angel I am proud to keep.
But it seems that not many aquarists have been successful in keeping this striking beauty, and remarkably little information about the species can be found on the web. What little information is out there is not very encouraging: they have been described as being shy and reclusive, and even worse, they are said to rarely adapt to life in captivity, often simply starving to death in tanks!

My experiences are different, and I would like to share them with you.


You might not feel the need to know the taxonomic stuff, but who knows, it might come handy when bragging about your newest acquisition!

Multibarred Angelfish belong to the group that we as aquarists informally call the dwarf angels, otherwise known as the genus Centropyge. However, Multibarred Angelfish are unusual members of the genus, with a much deeper body shape than most of the other Centropyge species. Because of this, some taxonomists believe that they should be placed in a different genus, either Paracentropyge or Sumireyakko depending on the point of view of the writer, alongside the two other deep-bodied Centropyge, Centropyge venustus and Centropyge boylei.

For the time being at least, the majority of ichthyologists leave all three of these deep-bodied dwarf angels in the genus Centropyge, but let’s see for how long!

Size, description and distribution

Maxing out at a length 12 cm (4.7 inches) this is not so much a “dwarf” dwarf angel as a “medium-sized” one.
Its base color is white with eight vertical black bars, with most, but not all, specimens also having fainter light yellow bars in between the black bars. On the lower part of the flank the black bars turn bright yellow. Juveniles have fewer vertical bars than the adults, but are otherwise similar except that the ocellus (eyespot) at the rear edge of the dorsal fin is much more strongly developed on juveniles, gradually becoming less distinct as the fish matures.
Being able to tell juveniles from adults is important because Multibarred Angelfish are, like other marine angelfish, protogynous hermaphrodites. If you want to keep a pair of these marine gems, get two juveniles specimens, and thereby allow the dominant individual to change sex from female to male.

Although protogynous hermaphrodites usually start off as females and then certain individuals in the group become males, there are some studies that suggest that males can turn into females, and my personal experiences of the species would seem to support that.
The Multibarred Angelfish is an Indo-Pacific species that ranges from the Cocos-Keeling Atoll to the Society Islands, north to the Yaeyama Islands, and south to the Great Barrier Reef. Wild fish are normally found living as pairs or in harems, typically around caves and crevices at depths of up to 70 m.

I want you, zebra, but what do you want from me?

In common with other dwarf angels, the Multibarred Angelfish is a territorial fish, and as such you will have to provide it with a lot of swimming space as well as plenty of crevices, holes and other hiding places.

As far as tank size is concerned I would err on the side of caution, and recommend 100 to 150 gallons as the minimum tank size for these fish, partly because of territorial issues, but also to allow you to keep lots and lots of live rock, so that these grazing fish can feed happily. Many problems with keeping this fish healthy surely come down to keeping them in aquaria that are simply too small for them.

As far as tank mates are concerned, Centropyge multifasciata is one of the less aggressive dwarf angels, really only bothered by other dwarf angels, with which it will try to establish a senior place in the pecking order. If you intend to keep Multibarred Angelfish with more aggressive dwarf angels, such as Flame Angels, put the Multibarred Angelfish in the tank first, so that they can establish their territory first.

In my experience, if you do things this way, you can combine Multibarred Angelfish and Flame Angelfish successfully, albeit with the Multibarred Angelfish being dominated by the super-aggressive Flame Angels. Ideally of course, you wouldn’t keep these lovely angelfish with any other dwarf angel species.

Bigger and active fish that aren’t viewed as either competitors or as predators work very well with Multibarred Angelfish. Even fish as large as the Acanthurus surgeonfishes can be very good tankmates, acting like dither fish, thereby encouraging the much shyer Multibarred Angelfish to come out into the open. My Multibarred Angelfish only started to swim about freely when I introduced a very bold and curious Powder Blue Tang, Acanthurus leucosternon.

On a side note I have noticed that one of my juvenile Multibarred Angelfish acts as a cleaner fish for the Powder Blue Tang as well as my Whitebelly Wrasse, Halichoeres leucoxanthus, living with her. In the same way as cleaner fish and cleaner shrimps, the Multibarred Angelfish has established a cleaning station that the larger fish visit, and once the Multibarred Angelfish has cleaned off any parasites or dead skin, they quickly swim away.

While I can observe this behavior nearly every evening in my aquarium, I have not come across any reports in the scientific literature mentioning this behavior in the wild. Is my fish a special case? Or is this a normal, but simply not reported, behavior typical to the species?

How about two?!

In common with other reef fish that naturally live in pairs or small harems, these fish shouldn’t be kept singly. The relatively new paradigm of keeping social fish in pairs, as is widely practiced in Europe, has not yet made its way into the American reef-keeping community to the degree that it should have.

While I accept that keeping pairs (or groups) of fish will reduce the number of different species we can cram into a single aquarium, this is compensated for by the much wider variety of social behaviors we get to observe when watching our fish. Moreover, I have observed that fish kept as pairs usually adapt faster to captive conditions, and more quickly start eating prepared foods such as Spectrum pellets.

With Multibarred Angelfish, 100-150 gallons should allow you to keep a pair. If you have a big enough tank, you can try to keep a harem of one male alongside three or more females. For some reason, groups consisting of one male and two females don’t seem to work; the dominant female seems to pick on the weaker female, stressing her and so making complications such as disease more probable.

Oh my god, was that a polyp?

There are few studies of the natural feeding habitats of Multibarred Angelfish. There are a few descriptions of the gut contents of wild fish, with algae, coral polyps and tunicates having been reported as consumed by these fish. Given their depth range, it is probable that they also consume crustaceans, sponges and other small animals found among the rocks.

Broadly speaking, I would consider Multibarred Angelfish as among the more reef-safe dwarf angels. They are found in deeper waters than most of the corals we keep in aquaria, and might not ever come across Acropora in the wild!

So while you might see them picking on corals I have never seen any damage done to my corals by Multibarred Angelfish. Mostly they seem to be picking at tiny crustaceans or worms they can see on the coral tissue, perhaps even doing a cleaning job useful to the coral. My experience is that Multibarred Angelfish are safe with both SPS and LPS corals, but that statement should be considered alongside my decision to keep my Multibarred Angelfish in a large, mature aquarium with plenty of live rock and algae. In the wrong aquarium, and without enough of their preferred food, Multibarred Angelfish may be considerably less reef-safe than suggested here.

Predators? Algae grazers? Hmm...

As far as foods are concerned, as with any fish, try to offer your Multibarred Angelfish a varied diet. Once acclimated and used to living in a tank, Multibarred Angelfish eat most foods similar in size to their natural prey in the wild. Offer them foods that are neither too small or too big. I have found that fortified Artemia, squid, smaller Mysis shrimp and glass worms are all greedily devoured. Opened oysters and mussels also seem to be enjoyed.
Perhaps surprisingly for a fish said to be difficult to keep, I’ve found that good quality pellets are consumed readily by settled and happy specimens. Nori sheets are a valuable addition to their diet, and these are best attached to a small piece of live rock and put onto the rockwork where Multibarred Angelfish spend their time foraging.

So, you can’t resist, right?

If I’ve sold you on Multibarred Angelfish, then the following tips will come in handy.
First, do not despair if your local fish store can’t order them in straight away. It seems that supply is seasonal, with wholesalers either all having Multibarred Angelfish on their stock list, or else none of them having them! But as a marine fishkeeper, you already know that patience is truly a virtue. So have your fish store order you in one, or better two, specimens, and then sit back and wait.

The good news is that these fish seem to ship well, and tend to arrive at the fish shop in good health. I have yet to see a famished or seriously diseased specimen. Your job is to keep it that way!

Once at home make sure to do at a least a freshwater dip with methylene blue or some other mildly oxidizing agents; I would recommend 10-15 minutes, with the fish constantly being observed and removed from the freshwater tank should they look uncomfortable or seemingly wanting to escape. In my experience, they handle freshwater dips well and quickly recover.

If you choose to quarantine your new acquisitions, do not use a standard bare treatment tank with just a few PVC pipes for cover. Instead, take some live rock from your main tank and put them into the cycled quarantine tank. Choose rock with lots of algae, sponges and other edible morsels. Multibarred Angelfish need something to peck on constantly, and there’s no point quarantining a fish if ends up half-starved by the end of the process.
If you cannot provide a reasonably spacious quarantine tank with live rock, then in my opinion it is better to skip quarantining completely, but do not skip the freshwater dip!
Once in your display or quarantine tank, your Multibarred Angelfish will most probably hide for the first day, though they may begin grazing on the rocks while you’re not looking. In the first few days feed often and don’t be too concerned about water quality; if your tank is big enough to house Multibarred Angelfish it will be big enough to tolerate a few days of heavy and frequent feeding.

Frozen foods such as Artemia, small, chopped Mysis and frozen glassworms usually get them to feed within 1-3 days. Should yours not eat after that time, provide an opened, fresh oyster or some other clam. Put the open oyster or clam close to the fish’s hiding place, and leave your fish in peace for a while. Multibarred Angelfish seem not to be able to resist this treat, and while you’re out of sight, they will sneak out and feed.
After the critical time of acclimation has passed, you will find that healthy Multibarred Angelfish will sample most anything you throw into the tank. It is however wise to get them to eat at least some nutritionally complete prepared foods; good quality pellets 0.5-1 mm in size work well. If you want to feed them exclusively on live and frozen foods, use a variety of different types, and supplement them with vitamins and HUFAs.

Take good care of your little zebras, and let others profit from about your experiences with these wonderful but little known fish!

Centropyge Angelfishes on WWM

Related Articles: Centropyge Angels, C. loricula/Flame Angel, Lemon/y Dwarf Angels, A Couple of Lemons; the True and False/Herald's (nee Woodheadi) Centropyges, Potter's Angels,

Related FAQs: Best FAQs on Centropyge, Centropyge Angels 1, Centropyge Angels 2Centropyge Angels 3, Dwarf Angel Identification, Dwarf Angel Selection, Dwarf Angel Compatibility, Dwarf Angel Systems, Dwarf Angel Feeding, Dwarf Angel Disease, Dwarf Angel Reproduction, Marine Angelfishes In General, Selection, Compatibility, Systems, Health, Feeding, Disease.

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