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Emperor Angelfish

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A Quick Guide to the Emperor Angelfish

The pomacanthus imperator, or emperor angelfish, is of the salt water variety and a favorite amongst angelfish hobbyists. Known for their brilliant blue and yellow stripes, as well as size (up to 15” in length), 70 species of this reef-associated fish inhabit the warmer waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Resembling the butterfly fish, adult emperor angelfish have a roundish profile and flattened bodies, with a white snout, purple-black mask around the eyes, and a yellow tailfin.

Some interesting facts about this species of angelfish:

  • Though difficult to propagate in captivity, emperors lay hundreds of eggs in the wild.
  • In their native habitat, emperors can live up to 15 years or longer.
  • Emperors, known for their bright and distinctive markings, take about four years to transition from their juvenile to adult coloring.
  • They serve as “cleaning stations” to other fish that need to rid themselves of parasites.
  • Emperor angelfish resemble both the omnivore and the carnivore in their eating habits.
  • Their powerful jaws can break open shellfish with no problem.

If you are interested in owning and raising emperor angelfish, there are several things to take into consideration.

Cost. Emperor angelfish are among the more expensive species to buy. Prices for juveniles start around $60, adults $200 or higher, with show-quality emperors approaching $400. And if they aren’t available in your area, you’ll need to have them shipped.

Tank size. Though raised-in-captivity emperors don’t usually reach the 15” size of their native counterparts, domestics can approach 13”. Emperor angelfish need room to turn around and navigate through the landscape. As such, most experts recommend a 150-200 gallon tank for starters, even larger if possible.

Provide enough room for a tank this size (as well as the other accessories) – and remember:

  • Once the tank is in place, it will be extremely difficult to move.
  • A 150-gallon tank weighs 1,500 pounds- or to put it in perspective, three-quarters of a ton. Make sure the stand, desk or table, as well as the floor, are strong enough to bear the load.

Expectations. Though raising these beautiful fish in captivity can be highly rewarding, there are compromises involved. Due to the difficulty of simulating the ocean environment (with sponges and large rocks.), emperors may lack certain things of a dietary nature that will eventually affect their development. As such:

  • They probably won’t reach 15” in size.
  • Their markings may not be as vibrant as they normally would be.
  • They may not live a full 15 years.
  • They will be virtually impossible to breed in captivity.

Once you have decided to take the leap and purchase one of these beautiful fish, make sure all the necessary preparations have been made.

Have a quarantine tank ready and filled with the necessary (and dissolved) medications and chemicals. Water temperature should be between 72-80° F, and the ph level 8.1- 8.4. As these fish are prone to common parasites, they should remain in the quarantine tank for 2-4 weeks.

As the time for transition to the larger tank approaches, make sure all the accessories are in place:

  • Water heater, thermometer and thermostat
  • Filter
  • Aerator
  • Light source
  • Pump
  • Gravel
  • Water preparations like Instant Ocean or similar products

In addition, include live rock, sponges (if you can find them), and seaweed (attached to the inside surface of the aquarium). Coral should be avoided, as emperor angelfish will devour it in short order.

Foods should include raw and mysis shrimp, krill, nori, marine algae, and prepared pellets or flakes which contain a good balance if vitamins and nutrients.