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The Smaller, or Dwarf-Dwarf Angels of the Genus Centropyge


By: Bob Fenner 

A Cherub in Cozumel

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The Smaller, or Dwarf-Dwarf Angels of the Genus Centropyge

 Bob Fenner

There are a handful of "the smallest of the small" pomacanthids in the world’s tropical oceans, most all beautiful, ultimately all captivating. These Centropyge of an inch, two to three at most are amongst the "best available, most appropriate" reef aquarium livestock. Most can "get by" in as small a volume as twenty-thirty gallons... for the most part they won't harm any purposeful tankmate... and to top off other beneficial characteristics, they're hardy and accept most all prepared foods.

    Like the other, larger members of their genus, these dwarf dwarf Angels prefer well-established systems with plenty of cover and live rock. Unlike their hit or miss larger congeners they rarely bother cnidarians they're housed with.

The Dwarf Dwarf Centropyges:

Centropyge acanthops (Norman 1922), even more orange than the sympatric Centropyge argi and Centropyge aurantonotus, the African Pygmy Angel. Can be easily discerned as the only one of the three with a light colored, yellow-transparent caudal fin. Coastal eastern Africa up to the coast of Oman. To 8 cm. /about three inches in length. http://fishbase.sinica.edu.tw/Summary/speciesSummary.php?


Centropyge argi Woods & Kanazawa 1951, the Cherub or Atlantic (Caribbean) Pygmy Angel. To 2.5" overall. Bermuda on down to the coast of Brazil. Aquarium and a Cozumel, Mexico pix of more adult, more juvenile individuals. 


Centropyge aurantonotus Burgess 1974, the (Brazilian) Flameback Angel is very much like the more northerly Centropyge argi with more orange color on its back, at a much higher price. Found in southern part of the Caribbean Sea. Note the dark blue caudal fin, distinguishing it from C. acanthops. To 2.5" overall length. 


Centropyge fisheri (Snyder 1904), Fisher's Dwarf Angel, is one of the many Hawaiian endemics. This is a "dwarf" Dwarf Angel, usually no more than two inches in length. Closely related to Centropge flavicauda. Hawaii and Johnston Atoll distribution only. A juvenile off of Kona and a more typical adult in captivity.


Centropyge flavicauda Fraser-Brunner 1933, the Damsel or White-Tail Dwarf Angel, is rarely seen in the trade; one of the dwarf-dwarf angels, growing to only a couple of inches in length. Indo-west and central Pacific. Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia.



Centropyge hotumatua Randall & Caldwell 1973, Hotumatua's Dwarf Angel. Found amongst a string of south Pacific Islands. A smaller dwarf species at 3 inches maximum length.



Centropyge multicolor Randall & Wass 1974, the Multicolor Dwarf Angel, is another deepwater dwarf dwarf species (to 3 inches) requiring subdued lighting and few tankmates. Western and central Pacific islands. Similar to Centropyge nahackyi. Aquarium images.


Centropyge resplendens Lubbock & Sankey, the Resplendent Dwarf Angel (1), is rarely seen as its known range is around St. Helena & Ascension Islands, marooned in the mid-Atlantic. A real dwarf species, to two inches in length.



    These diminutive Angels are about the easiest going of their family... and this can be saying a bunch. This being stated, they are still aggressive for their diminutive proportions... and can hold their own against fishes a good-sized larger. As with most site-dominant species we utilize as marine ornamentals the dwarf dwarf Angels should be placed last in your stocking plan, giving less "fast and smart" fishes and motile invertebrates a chance to establish themselves, and "learn the lay of the land/tank".


    Picking out healthy specimens of these species is not difficult. For the most part, all that survive the rigors of capture, holding and transport (thus far, all but the Multicolor are entirely wild-collected), are generally "good to go." Do assure yourself that the individual/s you're interested in are eating and clean however, by having your dealer feed them and catch and show you this in a clean specimen container.


It may seem, even be counter-productive to your being able to see, let alone find your small angel/s, but they really need a bunch of cover to feel comfortable. I'd like to relate an example of just how much cover... Once while diving in Tobago in the Lower Antilles, I asked the dive guide if he might have seen Centropyge aurantonotus... or "that cute little angel with the orange back you have here"... He said "sure"... and offered to show me on our next dive. "Now", he said, "do be aware that like most all dives here we will be flying across the reef... so be ready when I signal you to turn about quickly and be ready with your camera..." Well, we were indeed "flying", and came upon an area of seemingly solid overgrowth; with a profusion of small sponge colonies... the dive guide motioned to me, rapidly brushed his hand over the bottom... and voila (!), up popped the Aurantonotus! See an example at right. Can you make out that little angel, lower right of the middle or so?

    What is the point? These fishes need plenty of cover... as in as much as you can provide. The more this material is based/situated on hard substrate, the better. The matrix of living and non-living material serves an as critical role as a source of food... as these fishes are constant pickers of algae, small invertebrate animals during light hours.


    The actual feeding of the smaller Centropyge is identical to the larger species... In the wild they principally feed on filamentous algae and organisms associated with this (small worms and crustaceans principally). In captivity it is prudent to house them with good quantities of healthy, diverse (i.e. not too "old") live rock, supplementing what they will find and ingest with occasional sinking, small meaty food items. Prepared algae in the form of sheets and tablets is rarely taken, but growing your own "algae rocks" elsewhere and placing them in the display with these fishes will prove effective.


    Though they're small, the littlest Centropyges get parasitized, fall subject to poor environment and suffer nutritional difficulties as much as their larger kin. Cryptocaryon and Amyloodinium are easily treated with prudent use (and measure) of copper (chelated is better) compounds. Internal parasites are rarely so debilitating in these fishes as to compromise their health in otherwise optimized, stable settings.


    Baensch (2003) gives an account of successful breeding and rearing of a few Centropyge species, including Fisher's and Multicolor. He states that the principal hurdles to captive production of the genus are the larvae's small size at hatching and their primitive physiology. He has overcome these obstacles and has commercially produced young of a few Centropyge species for the ornamental trade. 

    Centropyges are broadcast spawners... releasing eggs and sperm simultaneously in the water column... The fertilized eggs, averaging about 7 mm in diameter, float to the surface and hatch in about a day... becoming part of the plankton and feeding there... and slowly growing till (hopefully) happening upon a patch of shallow reef on which to settle and metamorphose.

    First foods utilized in Baensch work included trials with Rotifers and Ciliates (both unproductive) and tow collected copepod larvae and eggs (with success). See his site (link below) for more, up to date information/news.


    At WetWebMedia.com we see a good deal of "can I fit this or that animal" type questions, including a fair percentage of folks who'd really like to "squeeze" a marine angel (or a few!) into a too-small system. Practically speaking, the only Pomacanthids that can be kept healthy long-term in anything smaller than sixty gallons are these dwarf dwarf Centropyge. But don't be discouraged by this limitation... these fishes are very nice to keep... They are colorful, intelligent, playful... and hardy and long-lived, given a stable setting with plenty of cover and a paucity of more aggressive tankmates.


Bibliography/Further Reading:


Frank Baensch's site: http://rcthawaii.com/

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. 2003. Marine copepods and the culture of two new pygmy angelfish species. FAMA 7/03.

Debelius, Helmut & Hans A. Baensch. 1994. Marine Atlas, v.1. MERGUS, Germany. 1215pp.

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

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

Gaither, M.R., Schultz, J.K., Bellwood, D.R., Pyle, R.L., DiBattista, J.D., Rocha, L.A. and Bowen, B.W., 2014. Evolution of pygmy angelfishes: recent divergences, introgression, and the usefulness of color in taxonomy. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 74, pp.38-47.

Kuhling, D. Undated. Centropyge, dwarf angelfish who must eat their greens! Aquarium Digest International #38.

Kuiter, Rudie H. & Helmut Debelius. 1994. Southeast Asia Tropical Fish Guide. Tetra-Press, VA. 321pp.

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, R.L., 2003. A systematic treatment of the reef-fish family Pomacanthidae (Pisces: Perciformes) (Doctoral dissertation, University of Hawaii at Manoa).

Rowlett, Joe 2016. A quick review of the Xiphypops Dwarf Angels. Reefs.com

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.

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.


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