There are very few saltwater fish as famous as the Clownfish.
This adorable reef dweller gets lots of attention in movies, professional reef aquariums and popular culture.
However, if you are used to freshwater fish then this species brings new challenges. Clownfish have a very specific type of habitat that they need in order to be happy and healthy.
Are you interested in keeping this colorful fish in your saltwater tank?
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about Clownfish…
|Other Common Names:||Nemo, Anemonefish|
|Distribution:||Indian and Pacific Ocean|
|Color:||Orange and white, red and white, black and white|
|Minimum Tank Size:||20 gallons|
|Tank Mate Compatibility:||Other saltwater reef fish|
Table of Contents
The Amphiprion genus contains over 30 different species of fish known as Clownfish or Anemonefish. They all belong to the Pomacentridae family, in the subfamily Amphiprioninae.
When people mention Clownfish they are usually referring to either Amphiprion percula (Percula Clownfish) or Amphiprion ocellaris (False Percula Clownfish).
The two species are often mislabeled as one another.
To correctly identify them you need to look for a black line between the white and orange bands. If there is a black line then it is A. percula. A. percula is also a slightly lighter color than A. ocellaris.
Their symbiosis with sea anemones is one of the most fascinating things about this species. The anemone helps to protect Clownfish from predators and in turn the fish act as pest control for the anemone.
If you keep them in your aquarium then it is best to keep their anemone friends alongside them.
Another reason why this fish is one of the most popular saltwater fish is because they are very low maintenance for a reef fish. They can form a colorful community with so many other popular reef fish. Even a starter reef can host a pair.
All of these factors make them one of the most interesting and entertaining marine fish around.
They usually live between 5 and 6 years, but they can live longer in rare cases.
Expect to pay around $20 for orange Clownfish and over $50 for more exotic colors.
- Experience Required: Saltwater fishkeeping.
- Nicknames: Nemo, Anemonefish.
- Color Forms: Orange and white banded (most popular).
- Size: 1.5-4 inches.
- Tank Size: Minimum 20+ gallon.
- Tank Temperature: 75°F-80°F.
- Beginner friendly reef fish
- Very attractive and fun to watch
- Not very picky eaters
- Valuable contributors to reef communities
- Needs an accurate replica of its natural habitat
- Cannot tolerate fast currents
- Can be aggressive at times with similar species
Clownfish Care Guide
Keeping a saltwater fish is quite different from keeping a freshwater fish.
Marine fish are particularly susceptible to changes in temperature, pH, and salinity, so it is very important to keep your water parameters consistent at all times. Even a small fluctuation can be disastrous for your community.
Because of their unusual body shape they cannot swim as fast as other fish and they can also have difficulty maintaining their balance – this is especially true in the high flow areas of the tank.
As far as common problems you should watch out for dropsy.
Dropsy can be caused by any harmful bacteria that build up in an unclean tank.
You can tell right away if your Clownfish have dropsy because their belly will be swollen like a balloon.
They will not be able to swim and will spend a lot of time at the surface. Other more subtle symptoms include paleness, decreased activity, and the appearance of lesions over their body and fins. Their scales will also protrude outward like a pinecone.
Dropsy is usually fatal and very difficult to treat. Preventing the condition is much easier than trying to treat it.
You should perform a 15-25% water change twice every month and clean up algae and detritus before it gets a chance to build up.
Make sure your filters are always operating at full capacity and quickly replace any that are not working.
It is also important to avoid sudden changes in water parameters because this can stress the fish and leave them more vulnerable to infection.
Clownfish are opportunistic omnivores and are certainly not picky eaters.
They will eat a little bit of everything and love live prey.
In the wild they munch on zooplankton, larvae, and other small prey. In many cases, they will scavenge for worms and tiny crustaceans in an anemone’s tentacles.
Algae is also a favorite of theirs and a little bit of greenery is essential for them.
In your aquarium you will need to make sure that they are getting enough meat and greens.
Both larval and adult brine shrimp make an excellent source of protein.
If bristle worms appear in your corals then these fish will gobble them up. Krill, small feeder fish, and shrimp can be served frozen and chopped into pieces small enough to fit in their mouth.
In addition to the algae that grows naturally along your rocks and corals, you can provide algae packed flake and pellet foods.
You can also try cooking and blanching a little bit of spinach for the perfect treat.
When it comes to feeding them you should feed them near their chosen safe zone (the area of the tank where they spend the most of their time). There is no need for a feeding schedule but they should be able to eat each meal in around 3 minutes.
Clownfish are not difficult to feed. Here are some of the different foods that you can give them:
- Larval and adult brine shrimp
- Crab and shrimp larvae
- Bristle worms
- Fish flakes and pellets
- Spirulina (supplement)
- Mysis shrimp
- Ghost shrimp (frozen and chopped)
- Feeder fish (frozen and chopped)
- Krill (frozen and chopped)
- Spinach (treat)
Although these fish have clown in their name they actually have fairly subdued personalities.
They will rarely leave their chosen safe zone in the tank.
You will see them swimming in and out of your corals, rocks, and anemones at the lower and middle levels of the aquarium. While they are quite active they do not travel very fast or far. Most of the other fish in your tank will easily out-swim them.
Occasionally they will behave aggressively to other fish that get too close to their territory. However, they are usually peaceful.
The only exception to this is during mating.
Both males and females will get more aggressive while mating or defending their eggs. In a breeding pair the male can be spotted patrolling the pair’s territory.
Interestingly every clownfish is born male.
The largest male in the group will change to female and take on all of the female’s roles in the social hierarchy.
Habitat and Aquarium Set Up
This tropical fish comes from the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
Their most famous habitat is the Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Australia.
In the wild this fish is usually surrounded by corals and anemones. Instead of layered substrate, the bottom of their habitat is usually large rocks, corals, and coralline algae.
This environment experiences all different kinds of currents at the same time, but the fish will tend to stay in the areas with the lowest flow.
Aquarium Set Up
For water conditions you should keep the temperature between 75-80°F.
The water hardness should mimic a marine environment at around 18 dGH, and the pH should stay between 8.0-8.5.
You should keep the currents slow in the areas where your Clownfish stay so avoid using powerful filters that generate strong currents throughout the entire tank. You can use an under gravel filter in a smaller tank setup, but large reefs need an external or canister filter.
Your tank does not need any substrate at all.
Instead you can line the bottom with large rocks and pebbles.
High light intensity is not necessary for the fish themselves but it will be necessary if you are keeping corals or anemones. For a coral reef tank, you will need a full spectrum bulb that runs at least 4 watts per gallon. Never place the tank in direct sunlight.
Hammer Corals, most Zoanthids, and Mushroom Corals are all compatible with Clownfish.
Clownfish and Anemones
If you want to keep your Clownfish with Anemones then you will have to design the tank around the Anemone’s care requirements.
It is important to remember that not every Anemone makes a good host. Bubble-tip Anemones, Magnificent Anemones, and Carpet Anemones are the three safest types.
To acclimate a Clownfish to an anemone you must encourage the fish to see the anemone as their home. If it has already established another territory you will need to remove this from the tank first.
|Minimum Tank Size||20 Gallons|
|Tank Type||Saltwater Reef|
What Size Aquarium Do They Need?
You can keep a single pair of Clownfish in a 20 gallon aquarium.
Add 10 gallons for each additional Clownfish that you add to the tank.
You will need to size up if you plan to build a reef community though. Most corals and anemones need at least a 40 gallon tank.
When most people think of Clownfish they think of the usual orange and white banded color form.
However with more than 30 different species their appearance is much more diverse than you may think.
You can find Clownfish in red, white, or black.
Some species have large white spots instead of bands, or have a white base color with orange or red speckles and spots. Other varieties are a solid color with a single white band, either near their eye or traveling down their dorsal side.
The smallest Clownfish is about 1.5 inches long, while the largest can grow to just over 4 inches.
While most fish have ray or fan shaped fins, all 8 fins on the Clownfish are rounded.
A. percula and A. ocellaris have 2 very small rounded dorsal fins that affect their speed and coordination in the water. The caudal, pectoral, and anal fins are rounded as well.
Other species have a fused, fan shaped dorsal fin that reaches all the way down to the tail. Those with fused dorsal fins have 7 individual fins instead of the typical 8.
Because this fish has such a round body they cannot swim as quickly as other fish with more streamlined bodies.
Common Color Varieties
While there are over 30 different species, there are only 6 species that you are likely to see in aquariums:
- A. percula: This is the true Clownfish. They are orange and white with black lines bordering the white bands.
- A. ocellaris: Also known as the Clown Anemonefish or False Percula. They look very similar to A. percula but they do not have the black lines in between the white bands.
- A. frenatus: The Tomato variety is red or deep orange, with a single white band near the eye.
- A. polymnus: A Saddleback variety has a deep red base color with rounded bands that look like a horse’s saddle.
- P. biaculeatus: One of the few species that is not in the Amphiprion genus. The Maroon Clownfish is a deep blood red color with thin white bands and spots. They can also be solid white with red bands and spots.
- A. perideraion: Skunk Clownfish have solid orange or red bodies with a single white band extending down their dorsal side. They are slightly larger than other varieties.
History and First Sighting
A. percula was discovered and described by Lacepede in 1802.
Back then the Great Barrier Reef was only just being charted and explored.
A. ocellaris was discovered about 30 years later.
Other species were discovered in the same geographic area throughout the 19th century as the Great Barrier Reef was being surveyed by various scientists and cartographers.
Over the next 40 to 80 years the field of marine biology increased and coral reefs and their inhabitants were of particular interest. The symbiotic relationship between Clownfish and Anemones was documented and observed in laboratory settings, as well as the fish’s protandrous reproductive habits.
By the 1980s the Great Barrier Reef became a hotspot for snorkeling and diving which further increased public interest in reef fish. By the 90s the Clownfish had found their place with saltwater aquarium enthusiasts.
The release of Disney’s Finding Nemo in 2003 created an unprecedented demand for this fish and other species featured in the film.
Clownfish are the stars of coral reef community tanks. They can get along with lots of the most beautiful kinds of reef fish.
Any type of Damselfish is compatible, as are Royal Grammas and other Basslets. The Green Chromis is considered one of the best additions to a community of Clowns. Wrasses are another good group of reef fish to add to this aquarium. Try the Blueline Wrasse, Bluestreak Wrasse, or any species of Cleaner Wrasse.
You can also keep a group of Clownfish with a single Blue or Yellow Tang.
Less aggressive Dottyback species (such as the Pseudochromis) and smaller Angelfish and Butterflyfish are also a good choice for larger reefs.
Gobies and Blennies will also get along well with them – the Firefish Goby is a particularly good tank mate thanks to their matching colors.
Clownfish can also be kept with most invertebrates.
Peppermint Shrimp, Fire Shrimp, and just about any species of marine Hermit Crab are all compatible.
You should avoid mixing different species of Clownfish together. They are very territorial with one another and the groups will fight for dominance.
Also avoid any large and fast swimming fish – this includes Triggerfish and larger species of Angelfish.
Aggressive Dottybacks (like the Bicolor), Lionfish and Groupers should also be avoided.
Keeping Clownfish Together
These fish are usually spotted in pairs or groups in the wild. They are monogamous, which means that the female selects only one male to breed with for the rest of her life.
In the aquarium they do not need to be kept in pairs. However it is not recommended to keep them on their own. These are naturally social fish so a single individual will not be very happy. In pairs or groups they will be much more confident and show themselves more often.
You can keep them in pairs or in a group of 4-6.
Also you should only keep the same species of Clownfish together.
The group will contain a female, a breeding male, and several other non-breeding males.
Clownfish are fairly easy to breed in a home aquarium once your female pairs off with one of the males in her group. To encourage breeding you will need a group of about 4 to 6 fish.
When the female pairs off with a mate you will need to get them into breeding condition. You can do this by raising the water temperature to 83°F and feeding the pair an extra high protein meal each day.
You will notice that while the breeding pair are courting the male will charge the female and nip her fins. He will flash elaborate displays at her that can be quite fun to watch. Also both members of the pair will become more aggressive to the other fish in your tank while they are courting so you might want to move them to a separate breeding tank.
If you do use a breeding tank you should line the bottom of the tank with rocks for your male to build his nest in. After 5 days of courting, the female will be ready to lay her eggs.
She will lay anywhere from 100-1000 tiny orange eggs in the nest built by her mate. Both parents will then defend the nest and care for the eggs.
The female will stay close by the nest until the eggs hatch, while the male will chase down anything that is unlucky enough to wander into their territory.
After about 6 days the eggs will hatch into free-swimming larvae.
The male can return to the main tank while the female continues to rear the young.
After about 10-12 days the larvae will reach the fry stage and will be able to eat brine shrimp and powdered fish flakes. Once they reach the juvenile stage they can join the main tank.
Should You Keep Clownfish? (Summary)
The colorful Clownfish may be the right choice if you are raising a coral reef for the first time, but you do not want a full reef setup.
They are happy in any aquarium where they can find a safe spot to settle. If there are no corals or anemones then they will shelter behind and under rocks.
Clownfish really are one of the lowest maintenance marine fish.
They will really shine in a community full of other colorful coral dwellers.
This fish will thrive when they can live alongside their natural partner, the sea anemone.
If you have a mated pair then you can also observe their fascinating nesting behaviors and the way they care for their eggs and young. Their reproductive habits and social behaviors are very different from most other fish.
With lots of different species to choose from, no two Clownfish are ever truly alike. There are plenty of reasons to introduce this clownish little friend to your community.
Which type of Clownfish do you keep in your tank? Let us know in the comments section below…