10 Best Angelfish That Are Reef Tank Safe

Japanese Swallowtail Angelfish

Aquarium Solutions Cambodia

Angelfish are among the most beautiful marine aquarium fish species. However, their voracious appetite for any invertebrates in the aquarium makes it hard to keep most species of angelfish in reef tanks containing crabs, shrimp, coral and other invertebrates. Some of the smaller pygmy or dwarf angelfish are less likely to pick at your reef tank invertebrates. This predation behavior will happen less often if the angelfish are well fed and have more live rock to pick at and room to roam in a larger tank. Most reef tanks can benefit from their algae-eating habits, their striking colors, and the busy behaviors of these smaller angelfish. Here is a look at 10 angelfish species that are the most likely to leave your reef inhabitants alone.

Fun Fact

Angelfish species in the wild are omnivores. They normally eat both algae and invertebrates: coral, clams, and shrimp are mainstays of omnivorous reef fishes. Their normal predation behaviors can be mitigated in a home aquarium if they get plenty of meat-based foods, along with vitamins and minerals in their diet.

  • 01 of 10

    Swallowtail Angelfish

    Japanese Swallowtail Angelfish (Female)

    Debbie and Stan Hauter

    The swallowtail angelfish (Genicanthus melanospilos) is naturally a planktivore and often browses on diatoms and filamentous algae. The beautiful Japanese swallowtail angelfish is one of the few truly reef tank safe angelfish as it does not bother corals or other invertebrates. The swallowtail angelfish is a mid-water swimming fish, meaning that in the wild it does not live on the reef nor near the surface.

    Species Overview

    Length: Up to 6 inches

    Physical Characteristics: Females have a yellow stripe on the back with a light blue body and black and blue stripes on the tail; males have an additional thick black line on the body and trailing tail fin, like the swallowtail bird.

  • 02 of 10

    Coral Beauty Angelfish

    Coral Beauty Angelfish (Centropyge bispinosus)

    Brigitte Emme

    The Coral Beauty (Centropyge bispinosa) is a favorite dwarf or pygmy angelfish species for hobbyists; its brilliant coloring, hardiness, and low cost makes this species readily available. This fish may occasionally nip at clam mantles and large-polyped stony corals, particularly if kept in small reef aquariums. If the fish has plenty of live rock to pick at and to keep busy with, it seldom causes damage to corals.

    Species Overview

    Length: 2 to 4 inches

    Physical Characteristics: body and head is deep royal blue, highlighted with an iridescent orange to yellow color on its sides.

  • 03 of 10

    Fisher's Angelfish

    Fishers Angel
    Keoki Stender

    One of the smallest dwarf or pygmy angelfish species, Fisher's angelfish (Centropyge fisheri) is normally not as aggressive as many other angelfishes, but some individual specimens may be territorial in smaller aquariums, particularly toward the more docile fishes. Since it does well in tanks with diatoms or brown microalgae, the Fisher's angelfish is best kept in an aquarium with established live rock that has ample algae growth present for grazing.

    Species Overview

    Length: 2 inches

    Physical Characteristics: Orange body with a thin, sapphire-blue outline highlighting the belly and anal fin; caudal fin is pale yellow; genders look similar.

  • 04 of 10

    Potter's Angelfish

    Potter's Angelfish
    Casey Mahaney / Getty Images

    One of the more docile of angelfish species, Potter's angelfish (Cetropyge potteri) still has a tendency to be aggressive toward new fish once it has become established. It may also nip at large-polyped stony corals, Zoanthids, Tridacnid clam mantles, and even some soft coral polyps. If kept in a reef tank with plenty of algae to graze on to keep it occupied, it should leave most corals alone.

    Species Overview

    Length: Up to 5 inches

    Physical Characteristics: Body is a brilliant orange, with pale to dark blue; the caudal portions of the dorsal, anal, and caudal fins are a dark blue-black; genders look similar.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Pearlback Angelfish

    Multicolor Angelfish eating algae

    Boris_44 / Flickr / All Rights Reserved

    The striking Pearlback angelfish (Centropyge multicolor) is considered to be semi-aggressive, particularly in a smaller tank where its territory is challenged. Considered reef tank safe with caution, it may nip at clam mantles and stony and soft corals. A larger tank and more live rock may help mitigate any damage.

    Species Overview

    Length: 3.5 inches

    Physical Characteristics: Pale peach-orange to yellow on its sides; black speckles on a background of blue behind the eye; dorsal and anal fins are blue-black while the caudal fin is yellow; horizontal swatch of silvery-white from mid-body to caudal fin.

  • 06 of 10

    Cherub Angelfish

    Cherub Anglefish

     chuckh / Aquaticlog

    A cherub angelfish (Centropyge argi) prefers reef tanks to fish-only aquariums, but like many other angelfish, it is not completely reef-safe, so caution is recommended when adding this fish to a coral tank. The mucus on the coral is what the fish actually wants to eat, not the body of the coral. And yet, repeat nipping will cause any coral or clam to retract and eventually die from stress.

    Species Overview

    Length: Up to 3 inches

    Physical Characteristics: Metallic blue body and yellow to orange on parts of the head only; genders are similar colored.

  • 07 of 10

    Lemonpeel Angelfish

    Lemonpeel angelfish

    Jones / Shimlock-Secret Sea Visions / Getty Images

    The lemonpeel angelfish (Centropyge flavissima) is well known for picking at large-polyp stony corals, and tridacnid clam mantles. The lemonpeel angelfish may also eat some soft coral polyps, as well as pick at zoanthids. Therefore this fish, as true with most all angelfish, cannot be completely trusted if these invertebrates are present.

    Species Overview

    Length: Up to 5.5 inches

    Physical Characteristics: Uniform bright yellow body, blue or white ring around the eye, and dark-blue edges on the vertical fins.

  • 08 of 10

    Flame Angelfish

    Flame Angelfish

    Our Marine Species

    The flame angelfish (Centropyge loricula) is a tropical Pacific reef dweller from Oceania. Although it does not breed readily in captivity, the wild population is not currently threatened. The flame angelfish is considered reef safe, as they do adapt well to a commercial fish food diet. Individuals that learn to pick at your coral or clams are likely just underfed and would benefit from Mysis shrimp or frozen clams.

    Species Overview

    Length: 3 to 4 inches

    Physical Characteristics: Bright orange-red with a vertical elongated black spot and four or five bars on the sides; the posterior part of the dorsal and anal fins have alternating purple-blue and black bands; males are often larger and slightly more colorful than females.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Orangelined or Eibl's Angelfish

    Eibl's or Orangelined Angelfish

    Christian Martinsen

    One of the larger dwarf or pygmy angelfish species, the Eibl's angelfish (Centropyge eibli) adapts well to a peaceful aquarium environment with plenty of hiding places. But larger individuals may act aggressively towards smaller fish, particularly when confined in a small aquarium.

    Species Overview

    Length: 6 inches

    Physical Characteristics: A pearlescent body with several vertical, evenly-spaced orange to red stripes; a brilliant sapphire-blue stripe outlines the caudal fin.

  • 10 of 10

    Masked Angelfish

    Masked Angelfish (In transition to Male)
    Keoki and Yuko Stender

    The stunning masked angelfish (Genicanthus personatus) are somewhat aggressive; they require a minimum tank size of 150 gallons. In their wild habitat around Hawaii, they are found at great depth, but captive-bred individuals have adapted to surface water pressure. With sufficient live rock, these fish will not bother your invertebrates.

    Species Overview

    Length: 8 inches

    Physical Characteristics: Like all marine angelfish, the young fish all start as females and the dominant fish will become a male. The young fish remain black and white, but when becoming a male, their black masks becomes smaller and they get yellow-orange coloring on the head, and the fins become orange.