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It was only a matter of time before Reefkeeping Magazine decided to feature the marine fish family Pomacanthidae as its ReefSlides feature. Nearly all of the approximately 90 species from the six to nine Pomacanthidae genera (depending on which ichthyologist you subscribe to) are meticulously detailed in exquisite colors in this issue. Though Angelfish are not commonly thought of as coral-friendly fish, aquarists worldwide sometimes still tempt fate by placing these magnificent beauties in aquariums loaded with corals. Some hobbyists are successful in this endeavor for an extended period of time; unfortunately, most are not.

The most commonly seen members of the family are the Dwarf Angels of the genus Centropyge. These beauties are usually the first angelfish a hobbyist purchases. Unfortunately, their feeding habits make them unsuitable for most of today's coral aquariums. A large component of their diet is coral slime and when this is combined with their natural, frequent picking at the substrate and bases of corals, these fish are sure to pester most corals and even clams in your aquarium. Nevertheless, they remain exceptionally popular in the trade. For a more detailed look at the genus Centropyge, visit my previous article here.

Perhaps not as common, but more sought after, are members of the genus Holacanthus. These species practice two distinct feeding patterns. As adults the majority (up to 97%) of their diet is sponges, but as juveniles they are more likely to eat algae. The good news is these angelfish are considerably less likely to nip at your corals than are those of the Centropyge genus. The bad news is the "nips" of these angels are often damaging due to the fishes' size and jaw strength. Another concern is their large overall size and swimming characteristics which can be appreciated only by diving with them in their natural habitat. To say the least, this combination of size and active swimming characteristics should be enough to discourage their purchase for all but the largest of aquariums.

A genus similar in many ways to Holacanthus is Pomacanthus. Members of this genus are also aggressive sponge eaters (up to 70% of their diet), but they are also more likely to taste-test a variety of soft corals including zoanthids and gorgonians. These are also the giants of the angelfish family, with some adult species reaching nearly 20" in length and defending an area of 21,600 ft2. I cannot think of many aquariums capable of providing a territory this size. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this genus is the color transformation that takes place as individuals mature from juveniles to adults.

The best angelfish for the coral aquarium are from the genus Genicanthus. Most fish from this genus grow to less than eight inches. As an added bonus they are zooplankton feeders. What this means to aquarists is this fish feeds from the open water column and not from the substrate or bases of corals. They do not feed on any corals or even coral slime. They feed on passing fish eggs, copepods, and invertebrate larvae. It is therefore possible to mix corals and these angelfish in the same aquarium without concern. The only downfall is, perhaps, their looks. They are not as colorful as some of their Pomacanthidae cousins, with most species being shades of gray, silver, blue, black or yellow. However, pairs and even harems are easy to maintain, and the males and females are distinctly differently colored, or sexually dichromatic.

Many of the rare angelfish are from the genus Chaetodontoplus. These species, like most of their Pomacanthidae cousins, consume their food by picking it from the substrate or from the bases of corals. They eat a more varied diet than most angelfish, which is generally bad for coral aquarium enthusiasts since their wider palate of food choices means they are more likely to taste-test your corals. .

Paracentropyge species are more in line with the size of Centropyge, making them ideal for many home aquariums. Their food habits and feeding tendencies are, however, also similar to those of Centropyge. These individuals will eventually harass large-polyed stony (LPS) corals. For the majority of aquarists this genus might as well contain only a single species- P. venustus. The remaining species are all found at depths beyond conventional SCUBA's reach and thus any that are captured for the trade fetch a King's ransom..

I find it interesting how so many aquarists can overlook these many, certain flaws all in the name of beauty.

Text by Henry C. Schultz III.
Photos by Reef Central members.

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