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Fish of the Month
Issue: February 2007

Holacanthus ciliaris

(LINNAEUS, 1758)


Beth Swanson/Shutterstock

Common Names: Queen angelfish, gold angel, blue angel, yellow angel

Type Locality: Caribbean Sea

Range: Western Atlantic: Florida, and the Gulf of Mexico to Brazil; Caribbean: Antilles and South American coast; central Atlantic: St. Paul's Rocks. At this latter, remote location, unusual color morphs, including all yellow and all white, have become establish

Taxonomic Troubles: Originally described as Chaetodon ciliaris. Confusion has existed with natural hybrids of this species and the blue angel H. bermudensis, which were originally identified as H. townsendi but are now known to be a hybrid, not a true species. The fact that

Size: 45 cm TL (18 inches), 1.6 kg (3.5 pounds).

Preferred Water Chemistry: Tropical marine, found on reefs.

Difficulty: This is one of the "good" angels, reasonably hardy and adaptable. Avoiding extremely small or large individuals will give you the greatest chance of success.

Tank Setup: A typical live rock aquascape is perfect. Like all angels, this fish is not reef safe! An immense aquarium with superb filtration is necessary for this heavy-bodied, very large animal. It is usually safe with appropriately sized and unrelated tankmates.

Feeding: Their natural diet is mostly sponges and algae. Young specimens usually adapt well to aquarium fare, but they must receive a preponderance of vegetable matter.

Breeding: Although some pomacanthids are being captive bred, no Holacanthus are yet being produced. One of the obstacles, of course, will be maintaining a large enough system to house at least a pair.

Description: The juvenile is basically a blue fish with a golden head and throat and vertical barring on the body. This transforms into a yellow fish with blue overwashes, the contrast between yellow and blue causing many of the body scales to be reticulated and individually prominent. There are iridescent blue markings on the face and fins, surrounding the dar circular "crown" on the top of the head. This species is similar to H. bermudensis, especially in the juvenile coloration, in which H. ciliaris can be distinguished by the curved nature of the middle bars, which are straight on H. bermudensis.

Notes: The impressive grace and regal bearing of marine angelfish is evident in the common names given to this and other species: queen, king, emperor, imperial, royal, majestic. They are also among the most beautiful of all fishes—often doubly so, as the stunning juvenile coloration gives way to an equally gorgeous, but dissimilar adult patttern. This particular species has a great deal going for it as an aquarium candidate—short shipping distance, hardiness, beauty—but a major drawback is its extremely large size. The animal's stunning grace and winning personality have won it a place in many aquarists' hearts, and single specimens are often kept in 200-plus-gallon aquaria as cherished pets. It is not only aquarists who are interested in this spectacular fish. It is of great interest to scientists, both for its relationship with its sibling species H. bermudensis (and the natural hybrids between them) and for its presence at remote locations in the mid-Atlantic, where a limited gene pool and local recruitment are thought to be the reasons for the appearance of several color morphs found nowhere else. [For more on this, see the article in TFH January 2003: "Color Morphs in a Queen Angelfish Holacanthis ciliaris (Perciformes: Pomacanthidae) Population of St. Paul's Rocks, NE Brazil."]

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