The family Pomacanthidae currently comprises nine genera with eighty eight (and counting) species. These fishes bear a stout spine on the gill cover (Pom = "cover", acanthus= "spine") liable to get tangled in nets, poke livestock and you. This is often stated as an easy distinguishing mark between them and the closely related butterflyfishes.
Natural and Introduced Range
Circumtropical; prominent species in shallows to a few hundred feet on rocky and coral reefs worldwide. Most are found in the western Pacific, with only nine species in the Atlantic and four in the eastern Pacific.
From a few inches to a couple of feet. I have heartbrokenly seen piles of foot and a half Pomacanthus angels on docks in Singapore and Thailand, on their way for human consumption, and just as miserably witnessed too small and too large specimens of even the best and better species offered in the trade that had little chance of "making it" in captivity.
Here are my re-statements of facts and opinions regarding which are the good, okay and dismal species of angelfishes for aquarium use, with scant notes following on how to go about picking out the best of the (most appropriate species) specimens offered.
Captive Suitability Scoring:
After long thought, investigation of others declared opinions, and handling thousands of these fishes over the last thirty some years in the trade I?ve come up with the following scheme of "scores" for each on its likelihood of surviving the rigors of aquarium care. To a 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 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 score of two (2) is indicative of a 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 and provide the best possible circumstances for these animals.
Yes, I know other authors, even highly respected scientists? ratings are different than mine, and your dealer(s) probably consider my "judgments" too harsh. My advice is indeed, not to rely on what?s stated here and/or any one other source of information. Before purchasing these (or other livestock) do your best to gather as much pertinent "accurate, significant, and meaningful" information as you can from reading, other hobbyists and the industry.
Genus Apolemichthys: Species
This genus is a mixed bag of suitability for hobby use. By the species most are of moderate hardiness; the best of them are semi to very expensive, and the most commonly available has a dismally poor survival record in captivity.
Best Genus Centropyge: Species
This genus makes up the bulk of what are termed "dwarf" or "pygmy" angels in reference to the 2-4" maximum size for most. Some are great for aquarium use, others dismal. Difficult species may require a haremic living condition; large system with one male, a few females; or have novel, demanding feeding requirements. Others are simply poorly adaptive to aquarium conditions. One to a tank is the rule, and the system should be well-established (e.g. have filamentous algae growth). Also of note: Pygmy Angels are very sensitive to copper treatments.
Best Genus Chaetodonoplus: Species
These ten or eleven species share a few features; they?re attain about the same size (7-10 inches), are all good-looking, of medium to high cost, and of medium survivability as far as use as aquarium livestock. Semi-aggressive, so should be placed in the system last, as with all large angel species. Should you invest in a Chaetodonoplus, assure yourself it is eating; all eat sponge and algae matter in the wild, and provide plenty of cover.
Best Genus Genicanthus: Species
Genicanthus are termed "swallowtails" for their accentuated caudal finnage. Though these fishes are known to feed largely on zooplankton, most have dismal survival records in captivity. Even the best of this genus generally succumb to "stress" diseases after a few months. Most of the mortality is due to their deep water (more than one hundred feet) and isolated ranges (hence poor airline service), as well as rough capture and handling. Starting with smaller, non-injured specimens is paramount. The eleven (10 described, one not) Genicanthus Angels are protogynous hermaphrodites (females turn into males), display striking color and finnage differences between the sexes, and mostly females are offered in the trade (more common in the wild).
Best Genus Holacanthus: Species
This genus is mostly suitable as species for aquaria. The majority are literally "tough as nails" (the African H. africanus, Clarion H. clarionensis, Queen H. ciliaris, Blue H. bermudensis, Passer, H. passer) but one does extremely poorly as a rule (the Atlantic Rock Beauty, H. tricolor). All require daily greens in their diet to flourish.
Best Genus Pomacanthus Species
These are the largest marine angels, some species attaining two feet in length. As such they require large quarters (at least one hundred gallons) and should be kept one specimen to a tank. Like all pomacanthids, it is best to acquire one of about late juvenile to sub-adult size (3-5"). All require daily "greens" in their diet, and are initially shy on introduction.
Marine Angel 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-big one's adapt poorly, refusing food and displaying unwanted behaviors.
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 clean on the body.
Both eyes must be clear (no scratches or white marks), and not-bulging. One or two overly-protruding may be indicative of physical trauma (beating or poor decompression) or internal parasite/disease problems. Avoid these specimens. See example pic.
Mental/Emotional Problems & the Possibility of Poisoning:
Look at the prospective purchase; is it looking back at you, reacting to your presence? It should be. Psychologically damaged and poisoned (cyanide is not an anesthetic) specimens may look 'perfect' color and body-wise; but are generally lethargic. You can even reach into their tank and touch them sometimes. Don't even think about buying such a specimen. Healthy angels are vigorous, aware animals that require skilled two-net capturing techniques.
Is it? Ask to see; more than once; types of food you intend to utilize.
Source is Important:
Why should you spend more money, at times much more money, for the "apparent" same fish that?s cheaper from elsewhere/anywhere? Two very legitimate "reasons". One: because the species may do much better on average coming from area "A" than "B". As an example, the Regal Angel, Pygoplites diacanthus, actually does pretty well when purchased within the "right" size range coming from the Red Sea. It doesn?t generally live at all coming from every where else.
The second reason has to do with "rewarding" folks for doing good work, i.e. getting you specimens that live, though they may cost "apparently" more initially to all parties. Think about this. How much cheaper is a fish that dies in a short while? As a consumer voting with your dollars, what are you stating/encouraging by purchasing such animals?
If you read other's accounts (you should) of which are good, okay, and lousy marine angelfish species, you'll quickly find there is no end of differences of opinions. Be aware that what's enclosed here, of a necessity, are vast generalizations concerning animals that are individualistic. You may get an "impossible" species to eat out of your hand; or an "easy-care" variety might possibly succumb from nothing on the way home from the shop. What is stated are general trends for the species, sizes and current sources for these animals. You can and will greatly improve on your likelihood of keeping livestock live by researching how to pick out healthy specimens from the best location sources and providing them with optimized settings.
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Emmens, Cliff W. 1983. Large Pacific angelfishes. TFH 3/83.
Emmens, Cliff W. 1985. Smaller Pacific angelfishes. TFH 6/95.
Fenner, Robert. 1995. Three amigo angels from Baja. TFH 7/95.
Fenner, Robert M. 1998. The Conscientious Aquarist; A Commonsense Handbook for Successful Saltwater Hobbyists. Microcosm, VT. 432pp.
Giovanetti, Thomas A. 1989. Getting acquainted with Red Sea fishes. TFH 9/89.
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Hemdal, Jay. 1989. Marine angelfish; color and style. AFM 8/89.
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Burgess, Warren E. 1973. Apolemichthys xanthopunctatus; a new species of angelfish (family Pomacanthidae) from the Pacific Ocean. TFH 8/73.
Pyle, Richard L. 1989. Griffis? angelfish, Apolemichthys griffisi (Carlson and Taylor). FAMA 3/89.
Pyle, Richard L. 1989. The armitate angelfish, Apolemichthys armitagei- Smith. FAMA 4/89.
Pyle, Richard L. 1989. The goldflake angelfish, Apolemichthys xanthopunctatus Burgess. FAMA 5/89.
Baker, Donald E. 1983. Centropyge shepardi: a recently described pygmy angelfish from Guam. TFH 12/83.
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Carlson, Bruce A. 1985. Centropyge heraldi Woods & Schultz, 1953; an unusual variety from the Fiji Islands. FAMA 4/85.
Fenner, Bob. 1995. A diversity of aquatic life: My favorite dwarf angelfish- Centropyge loriculus. FAMA 10/95.
Fenner, Robert. 1998. Perfect little angels. TFH 4/98.
Howe, Jeffrey C. Original descriptions: Centropyge narcosis Pyle and Randall, 1993. FAMA 7/97.
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Moyer, Jack T. 1989. How many species of pygmy marine angelfishes are there? TFH 3/89.
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Pyle, Richard L. 1990. The Japanese pygmy angelfish, Centropyge interruptus (Tanaka). FAMA 3/90.
Pyle, Richard L. 1992. A hybrid angelfish, Centropyge flavissimus X eibli. FAMA 3/92.
Pyle, Richard L. 1993. The golden angelfish, Centropyge aurantius, Randall and Wass. FAMA 11/93.
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(Pomacanthidae)(Whitley, 1959): two new fish records for Lord Howe Island, Australia. FAMA 8/94.
Pyle, Richard L. 1992. The peppermint angelfish Centropyge boylei, n.sp. Pyle and Randall. FAMA 7/92.
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Howe, Jeffrey C. 1992. The masked angelfish, Genicanthus personatus Randall 1975. FAMA 2/92.
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Fenner, Bob. 1990. The queen angelfish, Holacanthus ciliaris. 5/90.
Fenner, Bob. 1995. A diversity of aquatic life- Clarion angels, Holacanthus clarionensis Gilbert 1890. FAMA 11/95.
Kerstitch, Alex. 1987. The king angelfish (Holacanthus passer). FAMA 6/87.
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from Nan-Wang, Southern Taiwan. TFH 11/98.
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Stratton, Richard F. 1992. The gray angelfish, Pomacanthus arcuatus. TFH 3/92.
Fenner, Robert. 1995. The Regal Angelfish, Pygoplites diacanthus; tips for the conscientious aquarist. TFH 2/95.