The pygmy angelfishes
(genus: Centropyge) are the most popular and heavily traded of the
marine angelfishes (family: Pomacanthidae) in our hobby today. The
genus is the largest within the Pomacanthid family, comprising a total of 31
described species. The majority of these is intensely colorful, hardy and unlike
larger marine angelfishes, can be kept in smaller aquariums.
group is the present focus of RCT’s research.
On November 3rd, 2001 Reef Culture Technologies LLC closed the life cycle for
the Fisher’s Angelfish (Centropyge fisheri). To the best of our
knowledge this was the first pygmy angelfish species ever raised in captivity.
The company has since developed reliable rearing methods for a number of pygmy
angelfishes, raising an additional four species.
In nature, Centropyge
have a non-specialized diet, feeding primarily on algae, detritus and
interstitial fauna. In the aquarium they should be provided with a balanced
diet. We’ve had best results conditioning our broodstock on 2 to 3 daily
feedings of a diverse seafood gelatin diet, rich in vitamins, pigments and
highly unsaturated fatty acids.
Pygmy angelfishes are
pelagic spawners, releasing their eggs directly into the water column. They
predominantly live in a male-dominated social hierarchy referred to as harems.
In nature, each harem consists of one large male and one to four smaller mature
females and up to nine immature females. Every evening during the twilight
hours, males undergo an intense mating ritual with each mature female in the
harem. Spawning is commenced when the male rises with a female several feet
above the reef substrate, while “nuzzling” here abdominal area. Climax is marked
by a forceful thrust of his snout against the abdomen followed by split second
body reversal, which lines up the orifice of both sexes. Eggs and sperm are then
released in a single burst and fertilization occurs. The presence of an oil
globule causes the eggs to rise from the spawning site, just above the reef
substrate, to the plankton rich surface waters.
A video clip of the
Fisher's Angelfish spawning.
Adult pygmy species that
adapt well to captivity will often spawn without any special provisions.
However, egg production can be poor and random when the proper diet and
environmental conditions are lacking. In our experience, the keys to
consistently achieving large, fertile spawns have been:
Starting out with
healthy, mature fish
Conditioning them on
Providing them with the
lighting and temperature conditions of their natural spawning season
Giving them sufficient
tank volume and height to spawn
Culture and Larval
Development of Pygmy Angelfishes
The long and complex larval
phase makes culturing the pygmy angelfishes very difficult. Compared to the
larvae of commercially propagated species (clownfishes, dottybacks and many
gobies), pygmy anglefish larvae demand a smaller, more nutritious and easily
digested food source at hatching; are more sensitive to environmental changes
(water quality, lighting, temperature) and require optimal nutrition throughout
development; and take much longer to both reach and complete metamorphosis.
species raised by RCT:
The Fisher’s angel is a Hawaiian endemic
species that is rarely seen in the aquarium trade. One of the benefits of this
species, aside from its hardiness, is its small size. It can be kept in tanks as
small as 20 gallons.
The Fisher’s angel,
This species does well on all quality
aquarium foods and, being sub-tropical, prefers a temperature from 74 to 80ºF.
Adults reach a maximum size of three inches.
The lemonpeel angel is among the most
heavily traded pygmies. It is less aggressive than many other pygmies and a
hardy and beautiful fish. It thrives on a diet rich in algae and should be kept
in at least a thirty-gallon tank. This species has wide distribution and
commonly occurs throughout most of Melanasia and Micronesia. Water temperature
preferences are between 77 and 82º F.
The Lemonpeel angel,
Adults reach a maximum size of 5 inches. A
harem of three lemonpeel pygmies has been spawning at our facility for over 5
The flame angel is arguable the most common
and well know pygmy species in the trade. It is more omnivorous than most other
pygmies (which are primarily herbivorous) and considered very hardy. It can,
however, also be quite aggressive towards its tank mates, esp. members of its
The flame angel, Centropyge
This species prefers water temperatures between 77 and 82º F and can occur
from Palau to the Hawaiian Islands. It is commonly collected from the Christmas
and Marshall Islands. Adults reach a maximum size of 4.5 inches.
The multicolor angel used to be quite rare
in the trade but now is more and more commonly seen. It has a relatively wide
distribution, occurring from Palau to Tahiti and the Marshall Islands, but lives
secretively in the deeper, 20 to 60 meter reef habitats.
The multicolor angel,
We found this species to be exceptionally
hardy and well suited for captivity. It thrives our gel diet, flakes and adult
brine shrimp and prefers water temperatures from 76 to 81º F
The Japanese Pygmy angel is a stunning fish
and quite rare in the trade. It commonly occurs in the northwestern Pacific
Ocean along Japan’s southern coast, particularly at the Izu Peninsula, but it
can be found as far south as the northern most Hawaiian Islands. We found it
thrives on a quality gel diet, small pellets, high-grade flakes and frozen adult
The Japanese Pygmy angel,
Our wild adults require cooler water
temperatures between 74 to 80º F but our first generation juveniles are now
adapted and do well in water temperatures up to 82 degrees. Adults can reach up
to 6 inches in length.
Raising marine ornamentals is difficult,
the degree to which depends on the species in question.
Species not cultured
About 85% of the marine ornamental fish and shrimp species traded worldwide have
not been raised because of their complicated rearing requirements. Such species
are too difficult to spawn and/or have very primitive larvae that are too
difficult to raise. A common problem has been not being able to provide the
right size, quality and/or quantity of acceptable food organisms for the larvae
at first feeding. Butteflyfishes, hawkfishes, coral perches, tangs and
surgeonfishes, and most wrasses and many marine angelfishes have never been
raised in captivity.
Species cultured experimentally
Just over 120 species can be raised on an experimental basis in limited numbers.
Further biological, technical and economic problems still need to be worked out
to achieve large and consistent commercial production. Experimental rearing
methods vary from species to species and require experience, dedication and
financial commitment to develop. Some marine angelfishes, blennies, boxfishes,
damselfishes, drums, dragonets, gobies, rabbitfishes, and puffers have been
cultured in limited numbers.
Species cultured commercially
The biological and technical culture problems for about 50 marine ornamental
species have been worked out. Economics now dictates whether mass production at
a profitable level is feasible. A common problem is that the costs of producing
certain species in large numbers are too high to compete with pricing of their
wild-caught counterparts. Clownfishes, dottybacks, sea horses and few goby and
cleaner shrimp species are presently produced commercially. The royal gramma,
black-cap basslet, marine beta and banggai cardinal are examples of species that
could be produced at a profitable level if the costs associated with producing
them in large numbers was lower.
Special thanks to
Reef Culture Technologies,
Acrylic aquariums, Fish Tank, Aquarium Stand,
In-Wall Tanks, Wet Dry Trickle and Euro Filters, Protein Skimmers and
' Build Your Aquarium On-Line
Manufacture of custom acrylic jellyfish
tanks, plankton kreisel
and holding systems used to keep midwater collections and gelatinous
organisms in suspension.
Aquarium Maintenance, Sales,
Design and Installation.
Thousand Oaks, California
The Tenth Annual Marine Aquarium Conference Of North America
September, 27, 28 and 29, 1998
Long Beach, California
Jim Wolf, Tyree, Fenner, Hovanec, Knop, Borneman, Goemans, Leng, Thiel, Pellata, Frakes,
Carlson, Sprung, Riddle, Brockmann, Delbeek, Adey.
Ponds, Fish and Aquatic Information.
Bob Fenner, author
of The Conscientious Marine Aquarist, and the WetWeb crew offer tons of
aquarium info and fun.