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Related FAQs: Maldives Angelfishes, Marine Angelfishes In General, Selection, Behavior, Compatibility, Health, Feeding, Disease

Other Regional Accounts of Marine Angels: Red Sea, Baja, Caribbean

Related Articles: The Marine Angelfish family, Pomacanthidae, Best Marine Angels

/The Conscientious Marine Aquarist

Marine Angelfishes of the Maldives, Indian Ocean

Bob Fenner

Apolemichthys trimaculatus

Angelfishes for  Marine Aquariums
Diversity, Selection & Care

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by Robert (Bob) Fenner

You would think the second most dived place in the world (the Caribbean is number one) with more visiting divers per year than populace (300k in 1998 versus about 290k citizens), would be better known to westerners. Especially pet-fish-ionados, as this island nation boasts some 400,000 square miles of sea surface area, much of it atoll reefs, and many aquarium-useful species.

So why haven't you heard much about this mythical area, or seen it's incredibly beautiful and tough livestock at your dealers? This is mainly a matter of geography (This low-lying atoll-nation stretches below India down to below the equator) and cost of transport. Additionally, the environment, living and not is being cherished and exploited as it should be; carefully, with an eye on sustainability. This will result in more resource and lower costs for another source of hardy, tropical marines.

Most of the fourteen species of angels coming out of the Maldives have ranges extending eastward into the Indo-Pacific, but even so, from here they are more colorful and historically hardier for captive use. Here are the marine angels of the Maldives.

Captive Suitability Scoring:

After long thought, investigation of others declared opinions, and handling of thousands of these species I?ve come to a set of "scores" for each on its likelihood of surviving the rigors of aquarium care. Yes, to some degree this information is necessarily historical (what has happened, may not be the general trend to come), and is subject to "improvement" on the keepers? side as a consequence of providing larger, more stable quarters (like public aquariums), and more diligent husbandry. But, by and large a relative score of one (1) indicates the "highest and best" survivability under captive conditions; let?s say most of the specimens of this species collected surviving more than three months. A two score (2) is indicative of mortality of more than fifty percent between one and three months. Lastly, and sufficient for our purposes, a three (3) is the worst score, with more than 50% of the species perishing before a months time of capture. I entreat you to leave the latter group to the sea, or at least to study about their care ardently and provide the best possible circumstances for these animals.


The family Pomacanthidae consists of nine genera and eighty (and growing) species. Angelfishes bear a stout spine on their gill cover able to get tangled in nets, puncture livestock and unwitting aquarists hands. This acanthus (= spine) on the operculum (= "pom") is an easy distinguishing mark between angels and the closely related Butterflyfishes, family Chaetodontidae.

The fourteen species of angelfishes recorded from the Maldives have a few surprises. Some of the "difficult" types collected out of the Pacific are much hardier coming from the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, due to costs related to their distant shipping, these same species cost more coming into western markets? and are worth much more.

Species of Marine Angels Hailing From the Maldives:

All fourteen species of marine angelfishes found in the Maldives are used in the aquarium interest, though they are infrequently imported from here to the west from this region, due higher transportation costs. But don't be dissuaded by this slightly higher initial price for Indian Ocean/Maldivian specimens; they are well worth the extra charge.

Genus Apolemichthys:

The Three-spot Angelfish, Apolemichthys trimaculatus (Lacepede 1831), gets mixed reviews in the West for hardiness and reef-safe rating. I give it at least a 2 and good to medium respectively from me. This species mainly eats sea squirts, sponges and algae in the wild. Grows to about six inches in length.

Apolemichthys xanthurus, (Bennett 1832) the Indian Yellowtail or Smoke Angelfish (1). This fish is very similar to A. xanthuotis from the Red Sea, but has less extensive black head coloring. Both species do well in captivity in tanks with extensive, algae-growing live rock. Eat sponges and tunicates (sea squirts, ascidians) in the wild. Western Indian Ocean. A reef-safe species generally.

Dwarf and "Dwarf Dwarf" Angelfishes of the genus Centropyge: Two of six members of this genus found in the Maldives are common, the other four rare. All are cryptic, hiding species that spend most of their time skulking about in live rock, eating algae. All good aquarium specimens coming from here (1?s).

Centropyge multispinus in the Maldives

Centropyge flavipectoralis in captivity

The two ubiquitous ones are: The Dusky Cherub or Many-spined and Yellow-fin or Moonbeam Angelfishes, Centropyge multispinus (Playfair & Gunther 1867) and Centropyge flavipectoralis Randall & Klausewitz 1977, respectively. Both to about four inches in length, and both resemble the Pacific?s Midnight Angel, Centropyge nox, but can be differentiated by the first species blue margins on its fins, and the second?s yellow pectorals.

Coral Beauty, Centropyge bispinosa 

Eibl?s Angelfish, Centropyge eiblii 

for comparison with Centropyge vroliki  of the Pacific

 Indian Cherub Angelfish, Centropyge acanthops 

The four rarely seen Centropyges include two "regular" sized species, the Coral Beauty, Centropyge bispinosa (Gunther 1860) and Eibl?s Angelfish, Centropyge eiblii Klausewitz 1963 (compare with Centropyge vroliki (Bleeker 1853) in the Pacific), and two smaller Dwarf species (about two inches overall): the Indian Cherub Angelfish, Centropyge acanthops (Norman 1922) and Damsel Angelfish, Centropyge flavicauda. The last is easily mistaken for a white-tailed damselfish, with its usually whitish tail fin.

Genus Genicanthus:

male Genicanthus caudovittatus

female Genicanthus caudovittatus

Genicanthus caudovittatus, the Zebra Lyretail Angel (1). Genicanthus pomacanthids are also often labeled as "dwarfs", all about 4-6 inches long. They are noted for being the only zooplanktivores amongst the Angelfishes and their contrasting color and body shapes of males and females. These fishes are sex-changers (protogynic synchronous hermaphrodites), being females that turn into males. Most often they are offered only as males and live well kept singly.

Pomacanthus: The largest, showiest Angelfishes are of the Maldives and elsewhere are of the genus Pomacanthus. These species are a mixed bag of hardiness coming from here too, with some surviving the rigors/challenges of capture, handling and shipping much better than others. The species in this genus are also notable for forming long-term pair bonds and having striking color transformations from juvenile to sub-adult to adult size, juveniles being a variation on a theme of black bodied with varying lines, bands, circles of white and blue. The Maldives sports four official species, two very common, the others exceedingly rare, probably chance occurrences.

Juvenile (3")

A changeling (about 5")

and an adult in the Maldives of Pomacanthus imperator

The most beautiful and exemplary captive angelfish species coming from this region is Pomacanthus imperator (Bloch 1787), the Emperor angel, truly well named. Granted you receive a healthy specimen (especially from the Maldives or Red Sea) of "correct" size (3 1/2 to 5 inches or so) to start with, you may keep this fish for longer than the family dog.


to changeling (aquarium photos)

16 adult in the Maldives of the Blue-face Angelfish,

Tougher from here than most anywhere, but still touchy (3), the Blue-face Angelfish, Pomacanthus (Euxiphipops) xanthometopon  (Bleeker 1853) is easily approached in the Maldives (species widespread Indo-Pacific), and hard to resist for owners of huge (hundreds of gallons) marine aquariums (to about 16 inches long). These animals require lots of room, copious amounts of live rock-food.

2 inch juvenile

6 inch changeling

one foot adult Koran Angel

The other rarely seen Pomacanthus in this area are the fabulous Koran or Half/Semi-circle Angelfish, Pomacanthus semicirculatus (Cuvier 1831), a definite (1). To only about a foot in length.

4 inch changeling

Six inch semi-adult Blue-ring Angel

Ten inch adult in the wild

and Blue-ringed Angelfish, Pomacanthus annularis (Bloch 1787), another top-rated species (1).


an Indo-Pacific juvenile of 4" in captivity to show the gray chest area of the latter?s range.

An adult Pygoplites in the Maldives 

The Regal Angel, called the Empress Angelfish in the Maldives, Pygoplites diacanthus (2), rarely lives in captivity for very long coming from the Pacific (where their heads are more gray? more orange in the Indian Ocean). I.O. specimens I rate as medium in hardiness, and Red Sea ones even better. Grows to about ten inches in overall length. Feed primarily on sponges in the wild.

  Selection: General to Specific


Very generally; for small species get one that is 2-3 inches in length, the genera of larger angels, about 3-5 inches. Smaller individuals tend to be too beaten up in the processes of collection and transport and too-large specimens adapt poorly to captivity, refusing food and displaying undesirable behaviors like bullying.


Bloody color around the mouth, fins or body flanks is definitely a bad sign. I would not consider such a specimen for purchase. The scales should be flat, smooth and shiny clean on the body.


Ask to see if the specimen is taking the kinds of foods you will be offering it. If not, leave it.

Location of Capture:  

Huh? "I thought we were talking about the Maldives here?". We are; but how can you tell the animal you're looking at comes from there? Trust an invoice? The price? No; instead you should study up. You will be able to discern from appearances the differences yourself. These fishes are that much better looking. Look through reference works and/or take this magazine with you when you shop.


A few remarks here concerning pricing and sources of Maldive/Indian Ocean livestock. For the lowest landed cost, you may well be tempted to "mail-order" these fishes (They ARE more expensive). Be prepared to pay for related transport and handling costs, have your system ready and means of meeting the transport.

Alternatively, you may be able to coax a more local dealer into ordering and possibly tanking them for you, for a while. It may be necessary to front a sizeable, non-refundable deposit for this service, but well worth the cost of having them as your go-between.

The last scenario may exist for some lucky types who are near stores with standing inventories; these animals will most likely of the highest cost... however you will A) be better assured of their origins, B) have a leg to stand on in first person, for warrantee, and C) will be getting the most-aquarium acclimated specimens.

Environmental: Conditions


Ecotype: Marine angelfish species develop definite territories on patch and contiguous reefs that they defend against others of their kind and similar-appearing and resource-using fishes.

The first and most important requirement for keeping these socially aggressive species is space; they must have as large a system as possible with as much cover/decor as practical. A good rule of thumb is a good ten gallons per inch of angel at presumed adult size. For the larger species we are obviously talking a very big tank. Cramping them without cover will only provoke fighting, hiding, and shortened life spans.


Seasoned (previously stocked system for months) water is best with angels. A constant temperature in the mid seventies to low eighties, high specific gravity (1.025) and pH of 8.0-8.4 is ideal.


Should be vigorous and heavy on aeration. Marine angelfishes are extra active, and need saturated oxygen levels.

Behavior: Territoriality

Most species of marine angels are best kept one to a system (unless bought or collected as a pair, or harem in the case of Centropyges). Further, similar appearing (color pattern and body shape) species rarely get along. Fighting is greatly reduced by under-crowding, and housing dissimilar species of decidedly different size. If you must have more than one angel species in a tank, do take care to introduce the smaller one(s) first, and keep your eyes on them.

Species other than angels generally leave angels well enough alone. Should your marine Angel overly bully a tankmate, move that organism before it's too late.


It is not unusual for a newly introduced specimen to immediately take cover and stay there for a few days! Neither is it uncommon for the newcomer to join right in with its tankmates. Don't let either end of this spectrum surprise or worry you. These fishes are individualistic, but almost all adjust after a short while.

Feeding/Foods/Nutrition: Types, Frequency, Amount, Wastes

This aspect of marine angel care vies with space in importance. In the wild these fishes are variously coral, sponge and algal grazers; happily most angel species have proven to readily adapt to substitute foodstuffs. Depending on species, fresh or live clam, mussel, squid or shrimp, vegetable material and prepared angel foods (containing sponge material) are accepted by most with gusto. Some greenery, possibly with vitamin supplement should be offered daily.

Ideally "live rock" should be cultured with these fishes, affording them the opportunity to feed on a mix of non-vertebrates and algae at their leisure. Marine angels should be fed a minimum of twice daily, preferably more often. I prefer to offer the meaty foods (chopped shrimp, crab, clam...) in the AM so I can remove it before retiring later; and a vegetable-based prepared mix in the later afternoon.


Angelfishes out of the Maldives and Indian Ocean are more disease free than the same and related species out of the Indo-Pacific. Protozoans and flukes are much more rarely found on newly imported specimens, and they tend to stay clean. Just the same, I encourage you to stick with standard prophylaxis (quarantine, dipping) to prevent introduction of infection.

Marine angels in general are easily susceptible to chronic and acute copper poisoning. If possible (it is), you should avoid treating them with copper compounds, instead relying on quarantine, dip and biological control methods to prevent disease.


Where you "cast your vote" in purchasing marine livestock makes has important implications. Angelfishes from the Maldives are superior in quality? and you are assured of getting something more; the knowledge that the individual has been collected with conscientious habitat and species-sustaining methods.

Bibliography/Further Reading:

Allen, Gerald R. 1979. Butterfly and Angelfishes of the World, vol.2. Mergus Publishers, W. Germany.

Allen, Gerald R., Roger Steene, Mark Allen. 1998. A Guide to Angelfishes & Butterflyfishes. Tropical Research/Odyssey Publications, 250pp.

Burgess, Warren E., Herbert R. Axelrod & Raymond E. Hunziker. 1990. Atlas of

Aquarium Fishes Reference Book, v.1 Marine Fishes. T.F.H. Publications, NJ.

Campbell, Douglas. 1981. Marines: their care and keeping; Pomacanthus. FAMA 9/81.

Debelius, Helmut. 1981. Latest discoveries about the angelfish G. caudovittatus. FAMA 4/81.

Emmens, C.W. 1983. Large Pacific angelfishes. TFH 3/83.

Fenner, Robert. 1995. The regal angelfish, Pygoplites diacanthus. TFH 2/95.

Fenner, Bob. 1995. An emperor among angelfishes, Pomacanthus imperator (Bloch, 1787). FAMA 3/95.

Fenner, Bob. 1998. Perfect little angels, genus Centropyge. TFH 4/98.

Fenner, Bob. 1998. Touchy and expensive. The large angels of the subgenus Euxiphipops. TFH 10/98.

Fenner, Bob. 1999. Marine angels of the Red Sea. TFH 2/99.

Fenner, Bob. 2000. The best angels, family Pomacanthidae, for aquarium use. FAMA 3&4/00

Michael, Scott. 1996. Some possible pygmy angels for your marine tank. AFM 1,2/96.

Michael, Scott. 1997. Swallowtail angelfishes. The Genicanthus species are a different sort of angel. AFM 4/97.

Moenich, David R. 1987. Angel Food; the most important single factor in keeping marine angels is a varied diet. TFH 6/87.

Moenich, David R. 1988. Breaking the rules (marine angel compatibility). TFH 3/88.

Ranta, Jeffrey A. 1995. The emperor of the aquarium. TFH 12/95.

Scheimer, Gregory. 1998. A regal in your reef? AFOnline 7/98.

Siegel, Terry. 1997. Angels in the reef. Aquarium Frontiers Online. 12/97.

Spies, Gunter. 1988. The emperor of the reef: Pomacanthus imperator. TFH 11/88.

Steene, Roger C. 1977. Butterfly and Angelfishes of the World, vol.1. Australia. Mergus Publishers. W. Germany.

Thresher, R.E. 1984. Reproduction in reef fishes, part 3; angel Fishes (Pomacanthidae). TFH 12/84.

Wilkens, Peter. 1997. Observations on the Regal Angelfish (Pygoplites diacanthus)- A sad tale. AFOnline 8/97.

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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