Most Centropyge species make great aquarium additions,
some even to reef tanks. In our experience the flame, lemonpeel,
coral beauty, Fisher’s, Shepard’s (C. shepardi)
and multicolor angel (C. multicolor) do very well in
captivity. The Japanese pygmy angel (C. interruptus),
rusty angel (C. ferrugatus), half-black angel (C.
vroliki) and most of the smaller pygmy angels (C. acanthops
, C. argi , C. aurantonotus, C. flavicauda,
and C. resplendens ) are also generally considered good
Reef Aquarium Suitability
A reef aquarium makes an ideal environment for pygmy angels, being
replete with hiding places and natural foods. However, they may
not always be safe for the sessile invertebrates of such set-ups.
Depending on the species and individual, a new pygmy angel may
begin to pick at live corals, especially if unaccustomed to prepared
aquarium foods. The lemonpeel, Colin’s, bicolor (C.
bicolor ), and keyhole angel (C. tibicen) are known
to cause damage to invertebrates, while the coral beauty, flame,
multicolor, Herald’s (C. heraldi) and golden angel
are questionable additions and should be monitored carefully.
Species Not Suitable for Aquariums
A number of species of pygmy angel are often considered difficult
or impossible to keep in captivity. There are several possible
reasons for this. Malnutrition is probably the major reason why
species such as the Potter’s, multi-barred (P. multifasciata),
midnight (C. nox) and Colin's angels (C. colini)
do not fare well in captivity. All of these species have specialized
diets that are difficult to provide. For species that occur in
deeper waters (e.g. C. colini), decompression-related
maladies could also be the cause. The most common symptom is an
inability to maintain buoyancy due to a damaged swim bladder.
If brought up rapidly, deepwater fish will experience a swollen
swim bladder, which collectors usually remedy by puncturing the
sidewall of the fish and penetrating the swim bladder with a hypodermic
needle and releasing the gas. If done improperly this can severely
damage the swim bladder. If not treated properly the wound and
swim bladder can become infected at a later date causing further
buoyancy problems and death due to the infection.
Cryptic species, such the golden angel (C. aurantia),
are frequently captured with sodium cyanide. This poison impairs
oxygen transport by the blood, damages the lining of the digestive
tract and blocks liver function. Mortality estimates of cyanide-caught
fish from reef to retail exceed 90 percent (Rubec, 1986). Generally
fish collected and imported from Hawaii, the Solomon Islands,
Fiji, Tonga, the Maldives, the Cook Islands, Christmas Island,
Palau, Tahiti, Africa, Australia, Florida, Brazil and the Caribbean
are considered to be cyanide free.
Stress factors, such as handling, malnutrition or sub-optimal
environmental conditions, will also create physiological imbalances.
The eventual result of these disturbances can be a decreased resistance
to infectious organisms (see Spotte, 1992) leading to disease
outbreaks, particularly Cryptocaryon irritans, “ick”.
The bottom line when purchasing Centropyge, as it is
when purchasing any marine fish, is to know your source. Deal
only with reputable dealers who have a track record of providing
quality fish and who import fish from collectors and regions that
practice proper collecting and handling techniques.
Single pygmy angels are generally well behaved in community-structured
aquariums. However, there are some exceptions. Members of the
argi complex (C. acanthops , C. aurantononotus,
C. resplendens) are considered to be very aggressive.
Though less severe, the flame, multicolor and the half-black angel
also can be hostile towards their tank mates. More aggressive
pygmy angels should be housed in larger aquariums and introduced
after passive fishes.
Hostility becomes more intense towards members of their own kind.
To keep several species together they should be different in size,
housed in a large tank (75 gallons or more) and provided with
lots of hiding places. The larger, most passive species should
be introduced first and the smallest, most aggressive ones last.
Using this method we have kept 5 species together in a 120-gallon
tank with only minor territorial disputes (largest to smallest:
Potter’s, lemonpeel, flame, multicolor, Fisher’s).
Setting up Pairs/Harems
Even for those of you not interested in propagation, keeping a
pair or small harem of pygmy angelfishes is still very worthwhile.
Their elaborate reproductive behavior and lively interaction will
add an entirely new dynamic to your aquarium community. Keeping
two or more Centropyge members together is quite easy
when their social structure is appropriate.
To form a Centropyge pair, select a large male or female
and a smaller female. A trio, with an additional even smaller
female, will also interact peacefully. When maintaining larger
harems in average aquariums (less than 100 gallons), social disputes
and lack of spawning sites can become a problem. Place your fish
together at the store to determine if they get along. We usually
do this in a container with ample swimming room, like a 10 or
20-gallon tote. After a few minutes observe their behavior. Individuals
attacking each other ferociously are unlikely to form a pair bond.
So how do you distinguish a male from a female? Fortunately, most
Centropyge species show some form of sexual dimorphisms,
dichromatisms or both. All it takes is a trained eye and to know
what to look for in each species. The most obvious morphometric
difference is size, with males usually being larger than the females.
This holds true for the entire genus. Remember though, small males
do exist in cases were females were given the chance to undergo
sex change early so sexing based on size is not always accurate.
has both morphometric and dichromatic sexual differences.
Other morphometric differences between sexes have also been reported.
In the Potter’s and the Fisher’s angel, males were
found to have larger but fewer dorsal spines than females. Also,
male Herald’s and Joculator (C. joculator) angels
have more pointed and elongated dorsal and anal fins than females.
We have observed this difference in multicolor angels as well.
Sexual dichromatisms are quite variable among the genus. Most
species display differences during courtship, many are permanently
dichromatic and some even are both. Depending on the species,
temporary color disparities during courtship occur in the form
of a subtle to obvious color loss over part or all of the body
in either the male or female. This is also referred to as blanching.
In a few species, the male or female may also show more intense
color markings in addition to becoming paler. Permanent sexual
color differences have been documented for 10 Centropyge
species (C. ferrugatus, C. shepardi, C.
replendens, C. potteri, C. tibicen C.
loriculus , C. flavicauda, C. interruptus
, C. heraldi, and C. joculator). We have also
noted differences for two other species. C. fisheri males
have a darker abdominal area than the female and C. flavissimus
males have slightly more blue surrounding the eyes and in the
lower mouth region. We are convinced that all Centropyge
species can be sexed to some degree.
pair displaying dichromatic sexual differences
Picking a healthy individual is important, especially for breeding
purposes. A fish’s journey from collection to the retail
store is a traumatic one. Removal from its natural habitat, decompression,
handling, packaging, long flights, and acclimation to numerous
holding facilities are stresses that will weaken a fish’s
natural resistance and immunity at a time when it is exposed to
a variety of diseases. Centropyge that are improperly
collected, conditioned or shipped are likely to develop a sickness
by the time they arrive in the retail store.
Observe the behavior and external appearance of your potential
buy carefully. It should be inquisitive and react to you presence.
Respiration at resting should not exceed two opercula beats per
second. Look for injuries endured during capture, holding or transport
such as cuts, needle marks, abrasions and missing scales. The
clinical signs of a sick fish may include overall paleness, red
patches or lesions, decaying fins, turbid eyes, paleness, grossly
swollen abdomens (unless a gravid female), popping eyes, and any
abnormal skin growths or attachments. Individuals that are swimming
frantically or without coordination around the tank, are scratching
against surfaces or are just hanging in a corner should also be
In some cases when the damage or disease is internal, signs may
be absent. This is especially true for fish collected with sodium
cyanide. Unfortunately, this poison is still frequently employed
in places like the Philippines and Indonesia, especially for difficult-to-catch
cryptic species like some pygmy angelfishes. Afflicted fish either
die within a few weeks from acute toxicity or undergo a slow death
over 6-10 months from extensive liver damage. Know where your
fish came from before you buy them.
An ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure when it
comes to keeping disease out of your valuable community or breeding
systems. A two to three week quarantine period of close observation
is absolutely essential to allow any residual diseases to develop,
be identified and treated. During this time the fish can also
be paired and weaned onto aquarium foods. A dedicated 20 or 30-gallon
tank equipped with a small power filter capable of mechanical
and biological filtration is ideal for two or three pygmy angelfishes.
Quarantine is a time of healing and stress should be kept to
a minimum. Our tank has an established biological filter and contains
a few PVC pieces for hiding. Dividers are used to separate the
fish for at least a day or until hostility subsides and pairing
is established. Lighting is initially kept low.
Like most marine aquarium fishes, Centropyge are susceptible
to a variety of common diseases including saltwater ich (Crytocaryon
irritans), marine velvet (Amyloodinium spp.), trematode
worms and bacterial infections. Many of these are not visible
in the early stages of infection. As a preventive measure our
fish are treated with a five-minute formalin bath before they
are introduced to the tank. If they remain in good health they
receive a precautionary in-tank treatment of formalin and nitrofurazone
during the remaining three days of quarantine. When a disease
develops we identify it and treat accordingly.
While larger marine angelfishes require aquariums of a minimum
of 100-gallons, individual pygmy angel adults up to 4" in
length, can be housed comfortably in 30-50 gallon community tanks.
Being secretive by nature, they should be provided with ample
hiding places, especially if kept with more aggressive fishes.
Water Quality and Temperature
Water quality for pygmy angels is critical and should be carefully
maintained. Keep the specific gravity between 1.010 to 1.024,
ammonia and nitrate levels near 0 mg/L and nitrate levels below
50 mg/L. Details on our filtration system can be found later in
this chapter. Water temperature preferences depend on the latitudinal
origin of the species. In general, those inhabiting tropical regions
thrive at temperatures between 26 and 28º C water, while
those in sub-tropical regions require lower water temperatures,
between 23 and 26º C.
Foods and Feeding
Like most grazers, the dietary requirements of Centropyge
include algae, which should be provided on a regular basis. Encouraging
natural algae growth, such as golden diatoms, is optimal. Terrestrial
vegetable matter (peas and spinach) has reasonable nutritive value
but should not be fed exclusively over products containing natural
marine algae. Other excellent nutritional sources include shredded
seafood (clams, shrimp, fish, scallops) mysid shrimp and enriched
adult brine shrimp (Artemia). Live and frozen Artemia, is a very
useful “start-up” feed for fish refusing to eat. However,
care must be taken because this food may harbor diseases and is
low in protein compared to other foods such as frozen mysis, and
therefore does not make for a good long-term diet.