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Related FAQs: Queen Angelfish, Queen Angels 2, Queen Angel Identification, Queen Angel Behavior, Queen Angel Compatibility, Queen Angel Selection, Queen Angel Systems, Queen Angel Feeding, Queen Angel Disease, Queen Angel Reproduction, & Marine Angelfishes In General, Angelfish ID, Selection, Behavior, Compatibility, Systems, Health, Feeding, Disease,                      

Related Articles: Holacanthus Angels, Marine Angelfishes

/The Conscientious Marine Hobbyist

The Queen Angelfish, Holacanthus ciliaris

Bob Fenner

The Queen in her Court

Angelfishes for  Marine Aquariums
Diversity, Selection & Care
New eBook on Amazon: Available here
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by Robert (Bob) Fenner

Truly a queen amongst the many beautiful marine angelfishes, the queen angel, Holacanthus ciliaris is especially colorful as a juvenile. Given a healthy individual of not too small or large a size to start with, conditioned to aquarium foods, this species will adapt well to captivity.

Classification; Taxonomic Relations:

The queen is one of the seventy four described species of the marine angelfish family, Pomacanthidae. The genus and family names include the Greek word acanthus =thorn, in reference to the gill cover spine. This spine is a clear feature that allows angels to be told apart from the closely related, but separate family of Butterflyfishes, Chaetodontidae.

The Queen Angelfish is a sibling species to the Blue angelfish, Holacanthus bermudensis, from which they are hard to discern as juveniles. The Queen can be distinguished from the Blue Angel by closely observing the lines on the middle of the body. These bars are curved over the entire length of the queen and straight on the blue except near the dorsal and anal fins. Also the queen angel has a "crown" (hence the name "Queen") of a black spot with a blue ring which H. bermudensis lacks ( juveniles below, Queen at right). When small the Queen's vertical barring is "bent backward".

Holacanthus ciliaris (Linnaeus 1758), the Queen Angelfish (1). A true queen of fishes. To seventeen inches in the wild. Florida to Brazil in the tropical west Atlantic. Juvenile (note curved white body bars compared to straight in H. bermudensis) in captivity and adult in the wild (Bahamas) shown. Adults may be yellow, even "koi" mixed in color.

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There is some considerable confusion in the trade and hobby regarding hybrids that occur between queen and blue angels. The so-called "Townsend" angelfish, Holacanthus townsendi is a naturally occurring cross between these two; (H. ciliaris X H. bermudensis) not a true species. Also, occasionally the junior synonym (an invalid name) H. isabelita pops up in the literature for both the blue and true queen angelfish species, or some hybrid twixt the two. This is a nomen nudum.

Selection; General to Specific:

Very small individuals (less than two inches) should be avoided as they usually adapt poorly. Purchase at least a three inch specimen; and unless you have the time to expend and the money to gamble, not one over six inches. Larger specimens often time are problematical in terms of foods/feeding and behavior. The largest specimens require systems of a few to several hundred gallon capacity.

Given a choice of specimens to choose from, pick out first of all, the one with full finnage and body without blemishes, and secondly the one more interested in it's environment; lastly the most colorful individual.

Ask to see "the chosen one" eat what you intend to feed. You need not be concerned as to whether this species has been cyanided or not; the queen is collected in Florida and the Caribbean with hand and barrier nets, occasionally using the drug Quinaldine.

Environmental Conditions; Chemical, Physical, Biological:

Queens are not very sensitive to water quality as salt water aquarium species go. Some authors cite them as damsel stand-ins for initially breaking in a new system (Campbell 1981).

Temperatures in the low to mid seventy degrees Fahrenheit, lower to "normal" specific gravity (1.018-1.025), of natural or synthetic saltwater are fine.

Queens are found in the Gulf of Mexico to South Florida south to Brazil (Allen, 1979) in shallow to about two-hundred foot depths. The species is found foraging and hiding around rocky reefs, not in open, upper waters or over sandy bottoms. Provide some similar habitat.

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Behavior Notes:

All members of the genus Holacanthus are aggressive and should be kept one specimen to a tank. Sometimes these angels can be successfully mixed by adding at the same time, moving around parts of the habitat, disrupting territories, or bringing in ever-larger specimens. This practice is not encouraged unless you have other facilities for sanctuary, should relations sour.

More than one adult female may be kept together, but only in very large systems, as they attain some eighteen inches in length.

Other non-Holacanthus species are generally ignored; occasionally a queen angel will become a bully, and require "rehabilitation" or removal entirely. Provide adequate escape spaces for tank-mates and observe your charges as you should, daily.


This is the most critical area in keeping most angels and many other saltwater species. Queen angels must be weaned from natural foodstuffs to survive and thrive. In the wild, juvenile queens, three inches and smaller reputedly feed on algae primarily. They supplement this diet well in captivity with crustacean and other fresh and frozen animal foods. Stomach contents analyses of adults shows mostly many species of sponges (90% plus) being consumed, with other soft invertebrates making up the rest.

As stated in the section on selection, smaller, three to six

inch total length individuals are best suited as beginner aquarium specimens. These accept captivity and will train well on a variety of foods. For larger individuals, subduing the lighting and feeding at different times may be useful to coax them into feeding.

Opened, whole shellfish, squid, frozen and fresh crustaceans

should be offered occasionally. Plant material/algae materials should be fed daily. Algae (Caulerpa, Ulva (sea lettuce), Nori and Kombu from an oriental food supplier, et al.) and plant matter (spinach, zucchini, chard etc.) should make up fifty percent plus of their diet. Feed frequent, small amounts.


Infectious, parasitic, nutritional, social diseases are not a significant problem with this species. The usual precautions of freshwater dipping with or without admixtures and quarantine are recommended.


The "queen" angelfish makes an excellent first or beginner angel. It's easy to find, simple to maintain when purchased at the right size and fed properly, and disease-resistant.

 Bibliography/Further Reading:

Allen, Gerald R. 1979. Butterfly and Angelfishes of the World. Vol 2. Wiley Interscience, New York.

Campbell, Douglas 1981, Marines: Their Care & Keeping, Holacanthus, Apolemichthys: Part One. FAMA 3/1981.

Goldstein, Robert J. 1977. Angels and Butterflies- the Atlantic. Marine Aquarist 7:10/77.

Miller, Gary 1985, Angelfish of the Caribbean. FAMA 8/1985

Stratton, Richard F. The Queen Angel. TFH 6/89.

Tuskes, Paul M. Observation on tropical Atlantic angelfish on the reef and in captivity. FAMA 5/80.


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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