Choosing the Best Saltwater Angelfish Species for Your Aquarium

Angelfish
Humberto Ramirez/Getty Images

It's not always an easy decision when choosing an angelfish for a saltwater aquarium (also known as a reef aquarium). So, which ones will be best for you?

The following list is organized around three basic marine angelfish categories, where you can view good and poor starter grouped by small, medium, and large size species.  You'll learn which species are good choices for beginner and intermediate hobbyists, as well as those best that require advanced-level care and a near-perfect environment in which to thrive. 

Many aquarists have heard that you can't have angelfish and saltwater corals in the same tank, but that is not always the case. Some angelfish species are much more reef-tank friendly than others because they are less prone to nibble at corals and other decorative invertebrates.

Most angelfish have special and specific dietary requirements that make feeding them a bit more difficult. And most of the small and medium angelfish are reclusive by nature—they need places to hide when they feel threatened, so, therefore, don't do all that well in an open tank with no place to hide. Even the easy-to-care-for varieties of angelfish require a little more diligence and planning than some other marine aquarium species.

When choosing an angelfish for your tank keep in mind that whichever species you decide on, it will get bigger over time. Plan ahead so your fish don't overwhelm the tank and their tank mates. 

  • 01 of 03

    Small Species

    Flame Angelfish (Centropyge loriculus)
    Flame Angelfish (Centropyge loriculus). Photo © Keoki Stender

    This group includes the smallest of all angelfishes, the Centropyge species. "Small" is a relative term here, with a variety of sizes in this group of species: the keyhole angel reaches 7.5 inches; the bicolor,  5.9 inches; the fisher,  2.4 inches;  and African flame back, 2.8 inches.  But this species group includes the smallest varieties, with an average size of 3.1 to 5.5 inches in length. There are many dwarf or pygmy angels considered to be good starter fish for a beginner or intermediate aquarists, while others are poor choices, requiring experienced or advanced care.

  • 02 of 03

    Medium Species

    Species: Genicanthus melanospilos
    Japanese Swallowtail Angelfish (Female). Photo © Debbie and Stan Hauter

    This group of angels includes the Genicanthus, Chaetodontoplus and Apolemichthys species. These angelfish range in average size from 5.5 up to 9.8 inches. Many of these angelfishes are good for beginner to intermediate saltwater hobbyists, while others are hard to keep and adapt to aquarium life, and therefore should be avoided by beginners

    Suitable medium-sized angelfish for beginners include: 

    • Genicanthus personatus (masked angelfish)
    • Chaetodontoplus melanosoma (black-velvet angelfish
    • Apolemichthys xanthurus (Indian yellowtail angelfish)

    Varieties to avoid by beginners include: 

    • Genicanthus bellus (ornate angelfish)
    • Chaetodontoplus caeruleopunctatus (blue-spotted angelfish)
    • Apolemichthys griffisi (Griffis angelfish)
  • 03 of 03

    Large Species

    This group of angels includes the Holacanthus and Pomacanthus species. Although only a couple of these angelfishes grow to about 5.0 inches in size, the others attain an average length of 8.0 up to 20 inches in size.

    This group of angles require very large aquariums, from 100 to 200 gallons, and are very difficult to care for and don't adjust well in captivity. For these and other reasons, they are best kept only by advanced level aquarium keepers, with some species being better off left in the wild altogether.

    To reiterate: none of the large species can be genuinely recommended except for advanced hobbyists. 

    Possible large angelfish for beginners with very large tanks include: 

    • Holacanthus passer (King angelfish)

    Poor choices for beginners: 

    • Holacanthus bermudensis (Bermuda blue angelfish)
    • Holacanthus ciliaris (Queen angelfish)
    • All others