How to Choose the Best Saltwater Angelfish for Your Aquarium

School of carion angelfishes

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Looking to add a new angelfish to your saltwater aquarium? Provided you have enough space and accommodating tank mates, there are a few things you should consider before dumping any random angelfish into your tank.

Angelfish are members of the Pomacanthidae family of perciform fishes. There are over 80 species of angelfish with unique characteristics and requirements. Do not assume that all angelfish are the same. Be sure to do your research properly in order to ensure you are selecting a proper species for your tank. Some species may look very similar in juvenile stages, so be sure you correctly identify your species at a reputable dealer before you bring any fish home. Many angelfish species are wild-caught, depleting wild resources. Whenever possible, purchase from a sustainable dealer and always check your species against the CITES list to ensure endangered species are not transported illegally.

Angelfish Characteristics to Carefully Consider

Adult Size

When it comes to selecting the correct angelfish for your saltwater tank, a fish's adult size should be your primary concern. Some dwarf species of angelfish will only top out at 5 inches (12.5 cm), while others can grow as large as 24 inches (60 cm). Obviously, the larger the angelfish, the more space and resources it will require in order to be healthy. Remember, all fish start small, so do not think that cute little angelfish you see in the pet store will stay the same size. Thoroughly research all potential additions to ensure they will be happy and stay healthy in your tank.


Typically, the larger the angelfish, the more aggressive they will be, but there are a few species, and even a few individuals within a species, who do not fit that characteristic. Aggressive fish species will require considerable more space, since many are territorial, and tank mates who can hold their own. Certainly, any fish in an overcrowded environment may become aggressive if there is not enough space or food to go around. Signs of aggression in fish include ramming, swimming directly at other fish so they swim away, and knocking others out of the way during feeding.

Diet and Coral Foraging

Although wild angelfish are primarily omnivorous and most captive individuals are content eating a commercial pellet, some angelfish may start snacking on your saltwater corals. These are more commonly smaller, dwarf species, but not always. If you have live rock instead of corals, you may see your angelfish picking on these occasionally. This is not a health concern for the live rock or the angelfish. Here are some angelfish species that get along better with coral, but don't expect them all to read the rule book.

Care Level

As with many saltwater fish species, care level may vary depending on the species of angelfish you are keeping. Marine fishes, in general, are more difficult to care for than freshwater species, given their narrower water quality tolerances and specific diets. Hardier angelfish species, such as the Flame Angelfish, require moderate care, but are one of the easier angelfish species to care for. Expert-only level care angelfish include the Regal Angelfish and Emperor Angelfish, both large species with big personalities.

Angelfish Species to Consider

Dwarf/Small Angelfish Species

Smaller angelfish species are typically more outgoing and get along more readily with other fish species. However, this is not always the case and you may have a small species with a big personality. There is no way to guarantee your fish's behavior will match the species guideline, so always tread carefully and buy from a reputable facility.

Flame angelfish in marine tank

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Flame Angelfish

The Flame Angelfish (Centropyge loriculus) is one of the most popular angelfish, given its smaller size, more outgoing temperament and bright color pattern. They are known for coral nipping, so are best for fish-only marine aquariums.

Lemonpeel angelfish Centropyge flavissimus

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Lemonpeel Angelfish

As it is so named, the Lemonpeel Angelfish (Centropyge flavissimus) has a bright yellow coloration with distinctive blue highlights around its eyes, gill covers and fin tips. This species likes its solitude and needs to have lots of room. Although small, it is a more aggressive saltwater fish species.

Medium Angelfish Species

Holacanthus arcuatus banded black and white angelfish

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Black and White Bandit or Banded Angelfish

A stark difference in the colorful angelfish species is the striking black and white coloration of the Black and White Bandit Angelfish (Holacanthus arcuatus). These fish are rarer in the aquarium hobby and require LOTS of room for swimming. These fish are typically found on deeper coral reefs, so pay special attention from where you purchase fish and ensure they are using sustainable collection practices.

Swallowtail angelfish Genicanthus melanospilos

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Swallowtail Angelfish

The Swallowtail Angelfish (Genicanthus melanospilos) is named after the tail of the swallowtail bird, which is similar to the lyretail shape of other angelfish in this genus. These angelfish are fairly peaceful and safe around corals.

Large Angelfish Species

Regal Angelfish (Pygoplites diacanthus)

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Regal Angelfish

A definite "no" for beginners and those with small tanks, the Regal Angelfish (Pygoplites diacanthus) is a brightly colored, less aggressive angelfish species that can grow up to 10 inches long. These fish are very picky about their diet, like to have lots of space of their own and are known for rarely snacking on corals.

Emperor Angelfish and anemone

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Emperor Angelfish

One of the most recognizable angelfish in the saltwater aquarium hobby, the Emperor Angelfish (Pomacanthus imperator) has a bright color pattern of contrasting yellow and blue stripes. Growing up to a foot long, the Emperor Angelfish needs lots of space and is not recommended for beginners or marine tanks with corals.

Best Practices for Keeping Angelfish

After you've decided on the perfect angelfish species for your aquarium, carefully plan how you will introduce your new fish to your established tank. After clearing quarantine, aggressive species should be added last to the aquarium in order to ensure more docile fish can find a place of their own. You may see some aggression whenever any fish are added to your tank. It might take a while for new fish to grow accustomed to each other. Some captive-bred fishes may never have seen a different species, so give them lots of space and time to settle into their routines. Wild-caught species are not used to walls and tight spaces, and they will also require time to settle into their new surroundings. Larger, more aggressive species of angelfish may be more docile when they are small and grow into their combative behavior.

When it comes to feeding, choosing the right diet for saltwater fishes can be difficult. Since almost all angelfish are omnivores, feeding a varied diet is usually the best choice, with a mix of pellets, frozen meaty treats, and fresh veggies. If you have other species in the tank with your angelfish, ensure that everyone has equal access to all resources because angelfish can be more aggressive than other marine species.

Marine fish are very particular when it comes to clean water, so stay on top of your regular maintenance routine. Routinely check your water chemistry and ensure all your filtration components are working correctly. This will maintain the health of not only your angelfish but all of your aquarium's inhabitants.