The Clownfish species are named because of their vibrant color patterns, reminiscent of the face paint of a circus clown. There are many species of clownfish, which are all anemonefish - fish that live in symbiosis within the tentacles of an anemone. The most popular clownfish, and one of the most commonly kept saltwater aquarium fish, is the Percula Clownfish. This fish has a rival that looks almost the same, the False Percula Clownfish!
Some saltwater aquarists say the difference between the True and False Percula Clownfish is simply that the false species is tank-raised in captivity and has never seen the ocean, which isn't true. Both species are collected from the wild for sale in fish stores, and both have been bred in captivity and cultured fish are available in fish stores as well.
You also won't be able to tell the difference between the True and False Percula Clownfish by their preferred anemone choices. They both are reported to have symbiotic relationships with the Heteractis magnifica, H. crispa, Stichodactyla gigantea and S. mertensii anemones.
To help with the identification of these two popular saltwater aquarium species, here are distinguishing differences that set them apart from one another. Be aware, though, that now there are many color varieties of both of these fish that do not look like the natural wild orange, white and black coloration!
Percula Clownfish, Clown Anemonefish (Amphiprion percula)
Some people say that you can tell that a True Percula Clownfish is a True Percula Clownfish because it is sold under its scientific name: Amphiprion percula. That might work, except the fish store just calling it a True Percula Clownfish (Amphiprion percula) doesn't make it one. Scientists use identifying physical traits to identify and differentiate species from one another.
The True Percula is typically orange in color with three white bars, with the middle bar having a forward-projecting bulge. It has 10 (rarely 9) spines on the dorsal fin, while the False Percula has 11 (rarely 10) dorsal spines.
The True Percula usually has jet black margins of varying widths around its white bars. Quite often, these margins are thick and distinguishable. The False Percula has very thin black lines separating the white from the orange color, sometimes so thin that the black is imperceptible.
In the wild, the distribution of the True Percula Clownfish species is Northern Queensland and Melanesia (New Guinea, New Britain, New Ireland, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu).
False Percula, Ocellaris Clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris)
The False Percula, also called the Ocellaris Clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris) is typically orange in color with three white bars, with the middle bar having a forward-projecting bulge. The False Percula has 11 (and rarely 10) dorsal spines as opposed to the True Percula which has 10 (rarely 9) dorsal spines.
If you compared the True Percula and the False Percula side by side, you would find that the spinous (anterior) part of the dorsal fin is taller on the False Percula than is the spinous part of the dorsal fin of the True Percula.
The False Percula may have no black margins present at all, but most often has thin -- never thick -- black margins around its white bars.
The distribution of this species in nature is the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (Andaman Sea), Indo-Malayan Archipelago, Philippines, northwestern Australia, and the coast of Southeast Asia northwards to the Ryukyu Islands.
Black & White Percula Clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris V.)
The Black & White Percula Clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris Variety) is a variation of the False Percula Clownfish and, in the wild, is only found in the water off Darwin, Australia, which is in the area which you would expect to find the "normal" False Percula Clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris).
When the Black & White Percula Clownfish is first born, it has the coloration of the False Percula Clownfish, but as it grows, the orange/red colors turn to a dark black. It really is a beautiful fish and it retains the mannerisms of the False Percula Clownfish including the bouncing, loping swimming pattern.
Both the Black & White variation and the False Percula differ from other species of Clownfish (including the True Percula) in that they seldom travel more than a few inches from their "home" unless they are forced to move. You can put a mated pair of these fish in a 500-gallon tank and, once they have determined where their "home" is, they will never leave the immediate area, staying in about a 20-gallon area.