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Related Articles: Damselfishes, family Pomacentridae

/A Diversity of Aquatic Life

Three Great Damsels (genus Amblyglyphidodon) For Marine Fish-Only and Reef Systems

By Bob Fenner

Amblyglyphidodon curacao, Australia

Amblyglyphidodon aureus, 

Amblyglyphidodon curacao

Amblyglyphidodon leucogaster

You know the damselfishes (family Pomacentridae). Those feisty, generally small, mostly shallow water marines that are universally used for starting saltwater aquariums. Well, with more than 325 (and counting) species, you can imagine there's more to this group than ammonia tolerance. And there is. Introducing, three relatively unused, but great species of an almost unknown (and unpronounceable) genus Amblyglyphidodon ("Am-blee-gliph-id-oh-don")!

Damsels as a Group:

Damselfishes are an extremely important group of ubiquitous, circumtropical coral reef fishes. Along with the Clown-Anemonefishes (Amphiprion, Premnas, subfamily Amphiprionae) damselfishes make up the family Pomacentridae.

Damselfishes (subfamily Chrominae) provide a vital link both as reef forage fishes as well as excellent beginner marine aquarium specimens. Their extensive use is well warranted considering their diversity, beauty and tolerance of chemical and physical conditions, gregariousness when crowded and general compatibility with fishes and invertebrates. Most damselfish species accept all types of food eagerly and are disease resistant.

The Genus Amblyglyphidodon

There are seven nominal species of Damselfishes in the genus Amblyglyphidodon, but this story pertains to only three of these. The others are not nearly as attractive, abundant, or geographically near opportune collecting localities. For the sake of completeness, I will briefly mention these "other" species.

Amblyglyphidodon aureus (Cuvier 1830), the Golden Damselfish. This gorgeous yellow-gold damsel is found throughout the Indo-West Pacific, the Andaman Sea, eastern Indian Ocean to Fiji, throughout Micronesia. The Golden Damsel is mostly found in settings of vertical reef walls amongst corals and gorgonians. The species feeds almost exclusively on zooplankton. A juvenile and adult in Bunaken, Sulawesi, Indonesia, the latter a more mature, less golden specimen and one off of Pulau Redang, Malaysia.

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Amblyglyphidodon azurelineatus (Fowler & Bean, 1928), the Azure Damsel is only known from the Philippines.

No pic

Amblyglyphidodon batunai Allen, 1995. One in the Maldives.

Amblyglyphidodon curacao (Bloch 1787), the Staghorn Damselfish. From a distance the Staghorn Damsel looks like a gussied-up Sergeant Major (Abudefduf) species… with more yellow surrounding its vertical body bars, greater reflectance and a taller/thinner, more stately overall shape and demeanor. This species distribution masks much of the Golden congeners… widely spread in the Indo-West Pacific, Malaysia to Japan, south to Australia's GBR, and throughout Micronesia. The Staghorn Damsel is found in lagoons to outer reefs, often amongst soft and Acroporid (Staghorn) corals, feeding on zooplankton and filamentous algae. This one in Fiji, another in N. Sulawesi

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Amblyglyphidodon flavilatus Allen & Randall, 1980, the Yellowfin Damsel. Western Indian Ocean, the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. To four inches in length. A juvenile off of Sharm in the upper Red Sea.

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Amblyglyphidodon indicus Allen & Randall, 2002. Maldives Damselfish. Red Sea 2008.
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Amblyglyphidodon leucogaster (Bleeker 1847), the White- or Yellowbelly Damselfish. Quite variable in appearance, as evidenced in its multiple common names, the Yellow/Whitebelly Damsel may well be two distinct species… The Indo-West Pacific (Melanesia, Micronesia, Ryukyus to the GBR) form separate from the eastern Africa into Red Sea one. Both are beautiful and aquarium-desirable varieties, found on reef slopes, passages and lagoons. This species too is a generalized zooplanktivore, feeding on crustaceans (copepods, mysids, amphipods, other crustacean larvae), fish eggs, and some algae. Fiji specimen at right. Below, left to right: from the Red Sea, Bunaken/Sulawesi/Indonesia, and the Maldives.

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Amblyglyphidodon  ternatensis (Bleeker, 1853), the Ternate Damsel. Western Pacific. To four inches in length.

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The other members of the genus not pictured are fabulous potential aquarium additions as well... on several counts. They're beautifully colored and marked, interesting behaviorally (out and about most all the time), hardy and undemanding environmentally. They are also broad in terms of food acceptance, easy to find in good numbers in countries that have good collection facilities… and unlike so many damsels, though relatively large (to about 4 inches), they're uncharacteristically (for the belligerent damselfish family) easygoing!


As with other damselfish species, follow these generalities exist when picking out Amblyglyphidodon specimens.

1) Source: All three species are found in good numbers in Fiji, Indonesia and "the Kingdom" of Thailand. The best are from Fiji, with the possible exception of Amblyglyphidodon leucogaster, the Whitebelly Damsel, which sometimes is available in the west from the Red Sea.

2) Buy from systems with no dead or dying specimens. Look for signs of gill burn/ammonia poisoning from recent shipping; cut-marks on damsels from mis-handling and aggression, and avoid that tank. Beware of tanks of damsels with individuals hanging, drifting around having "private meetings".

3) Don't buy the smallest (<3/4 inch) or the largest individuals available. Small ones die easily and large ones don't adapt well to captive conditions. An ideal purchase size for this genus is between 1 ? to 2 inches.

4) If you're going to have more than one species/specimen, buy and place them all about the same size and time; this reduces inter- and intra-species aggression.

5) Buy stock that has been acclimated-stabilized. Damsels that have been adequately acclimated and held for just a day or two are extremely hardy. Just-new ones may die easily. If you can't be assured that your new damsel livestock have been "rested" by your supplier, do so yourself through quarantine.


Amblyglyphidodon Damselfishes are easy to keep in aquaria. They are not fussy in terms of water chemistry and physics. Temperatures in the low 70's to low 80's F. (72-82) are ideal. Any amount of light, dim to bright, suits them.

In terms of display, these Pomacentrids prefer a reef setting to a more sterile approach. Though they are sometimes found in close association in the wild territoriality can be prevented by under-crowding, stocking one or less per 10 gallons, and provision of plenty of cover. They like hiding spaces. Provide coral, shells, plants- some nooks and crannies for social-psychological shelter.

Foods, Feeding:  

These damsels are mainly generalized zooplanktivores in the wild, secondarily consuming moderate amounts of filamentous algae. In captivity Amblyglyphidodon Damsels quickly learn to accept all foods readily. Frequent small feedings 2-3 times per day of a mix of foods sustains them well. Nutritional diseases are all but unknown in this genus.

Infectious and Parasitic Disease:

Damselfishes are parasitized internally and externally by several species of sporozoans, Cryptocaryon, Oodinium, roundworms, flukes tapeworms and crustaceans. The presence, abundance and susceptibility of these pathogens to varying salinities and treatments are complex. Damsels for the most part are disease resistant and if preventative measures have been executed and their environment is optimized you can expect low parasite loads.

Most treatable conditions (external) can be excluded by the freshwater dip treatment and low specific gravity manipulation. Like other Damselfishes these species respond well to therapeutic copper treatments.

Here a pair are reproducing, laying eggs and fertilizing them on a rocky area prepared by the male... in the Red Sea.

In Conclusion:

As in other aspects of life there are real Catch-22s (Joseph Heller, rest in peace) in what's available to the marine aquarium hobby in the way of livestock. Way too often, while visiting in distant and near places with friends in the collection side of the trade, I "run into" apparent anomalies like the Amblyglyphidodon Damsels. "Why don't you catch and ship these"? I ask. "No one has asks for them", my associates tell me! How to get beyond this "founder effect"? That is, what best way to introduce new species to the industry and generate customer demand? This is it.

Whether you're stocking a fish-only (FO) or full-blown reef set-up do consider these three species as real possibilities. They're larger, smarter, hardier and more outgoing than the standard damselfish species offered in the trade. What's more, they're tough enough to hold their own, yet reef-safe.

Easygoing Damsel species? Yes, the genus Amblyglyphidodon. Hard to say, but nice to keep. Here's a batch of A. curacao hanging out on the reef in Queensland, Australia. 

Bibliography/Further Reading:

Allen, Gerald R. 1975. Damselfishes of the South Seas. TFH Publications, Neptune City, N.J.

Allen, Gerald R. 1991. Damselfishes of the World. Aquarium Systems, Mentor, Ohio.271pp.

American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, 1978. The Biology of the Damselfishes a symposium held during the 56th annual meeting of the ASIH.

Rosentiel School of Mar. & Atm. Sci. U. of Miami, 1980, 145-328.

Emmens, C.W. 1984. Damselfishes. TFH 9/84.

Fenner, Robert. 1998. The Conscientious Marine Aquarist. Microcosm, VT. 432pp.

Fenner, Robert. 2000. Three great damsels (genus Amblyglyphidodon) for marine reef and fish-only systems. SeaScope v.17, Winter 2000.

Flood, A. Colin. 1992. Those darling damsels. TFH 8/92.

Myers, Robert F. 1999. Micronesian Reef Fishes; A Field Guide for Divers and Aquarists. Coral Graphics, Guam. 216pp, 192 plates.

Pearson, Scott. 1993. On photographing the feisty damsels. Sea Frontiers May/June 93.

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