Queen angelfish (Holacanthus ciliaris)

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The queen angelfish (Holacanthus ciliaris) belongs to the Family Pomacanthidae (Angelfishes) in the order Perciformes (Perch-like) and in class Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes).

The queen angelfish is a marine, reef-associated, tropical or subtropical, non-migratory fish, commonly found near the coral reefs in the warmer waters of the western Atlantic Ocean.

These angelfish are commercially collected for aquarium trade without any restrictions. These fish are also known as blue angelfish, golden angelfish, queen angel, and yellow angelfish.

Description and identification

The body of queen angelfish is laterally compressed and has a oval profile and thin disc-shape. The single dorsal and ventral fins are prolonged, their tips reaching nearly up to the caudal fin.

The caudal fins are squarish and their margins are near transparent. The scales are overlapping, ctenoid (with comb-like posterior margin) and have yellow-orange rims. The pre-opercular region has spines.

The small mouth is located on the anterior region of the head and has small teeth. The common size (TL) of the fish is 30 cm and maximum recorded length (TL) is 45 cm. These fish may live up to 15 years in wild conditions. The maximum published weight is 1.6 kg.

queen angelfish (Holacanthus ciliaris)
Queen angelfish
Juvenile Queen angelfish
Queen angelfish – breeding, development and juveniles
Queen angelfish (Holacanthus ciliaris) facts
Queen angelfish facts
queen angelfish (Holacanthus ciliaris) aquarium care
Queen angelfish aquarium and care


The angelfish has a black/dark brown spot on the forehead surrounded by near fluorescent, electric blue ring, liken to crown. Hence it is named queen angelfish. There are numerous color variations.

The dorsal fin, ventral fin, paired fins and caudal fin are colored entirely yellow. The dorsal and ventral fins have a fluorescent blue margin. However, their prolonged tips are yellow. The base of the pectoral fin, the area around the mouth, the upper edge of eyes, preopercular spines and the operculum margin have electric fluorescent blue color.

The juvenile fish have blue body coloration with electric blue bands. As the young fish grow the blue coloration get replaced by yellow.

Meristics and morphometrics of queen angelfish

Lateral line: Uninterrupted; 45-49 scales on the lateral line;
Total gill rakers: 18-21;
Dorsal fin: 1; extends over most of the dorsal length; total dorsal spines: 14; total dorsal soft rays: 19-21;
Caudal fin: truncate;
Anal fin: 1; anal spines: 3; anal soft rays: 20 – 21;
Pectoral fin: soft rays: 19;

Queen angelfish habitat and ecosystem

These fish are found solitarily or in pairs near coral reefs, moving between corals, sponges and other sessile, macro reef fauna. It is found to get cleaned by Pederson’s cleaner shrimp (Ancylomenes pedersoni) and the Caribbean cleaning goby (Elacatinus evelynae).

Queen angelfish occurs in ecosystems like, Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Discovery Bay, East Brazil Shelf, Gulf of Mexico, North Brazil Shelf, South Brazil Shelf and Southeast U.S. Continental Shelf. It has been accidentally introduced into Mediterranean Sea and Adriatic Sea.

Origin and distribution

The queen angelfish is native to 40 countries in North and South America, occurring in extensive coral reef systems present there. These fish species are non-migratory and are resident to coral reef ecosystems.

They are common in Florida Keys (Key Largo, Little Torch Key, Bahia Honda Key, Dry Tortugas, Marquesas Keys, Sunset Key, Wisteria Island, Key West, Fleming Key, Sigsbee Park, Stock Island etc.), the Bahamas and the Gulf of Mexico.

Towards south they occur up to Brazil and towards north they occur up to Long Island. The queen angelfish has been introduced into Mediterranean and Adriatic Sea.

Queen angelfish behavior and adaptations

These fish species are well adapted for their life among corals. They are flattened laterally so that their movement between the corals and other reef macrofauna becomes easy. They are aggressive and highly territorial.

In a community aquarium, they must be the last specimen to be added. They have the habit of nibbling the substrate and hence they are not a candidate for reef aquarium. These species are known to hybridize with blue angelfish (Holacanthus bermudensis).

Diet and feeding habits

The queen angelfish are foragers, feeding on a variety of sessile invertebrates and plants. Stomach contents of these fish reveal that their diet mostly consists of sponges. They also feed on algal matter, tunicates, jellyfish, corals, plankton, hydroids and bryozoans.

The young fish are found to pick external parasites of other larger fishes. In aquarium environment, the young fish can be trained to feed on spirulina, brine shrimp, frozen worms and formulated feeds.

Queen angelfish reproduction and development

The male fish is slightly larger than the female. There is one clear seasonal (winter) peak in spawning in these angelfish. The adult fish are usually seen in pairs, suggesting a monogamous behavior.

The breeding pair rise up in the water column and swimming closer, bring their vents close together and release clouds of sperms and eggs. The eggs and sperms are released simultaneously into open sea and the fertilization takes place externally.

The eggs and the fry are not guarded and parental care is absent in these angelfish species. Spawning may occur more than once in a year. The eggs are pelagic and floating in open waters, hatch after 15 hours. The fry carries yolk sac, which will sustain it for 2 days.

By 48 hours the fry starts feeding on plankton and rapidly develops into a free swimming baby angelfish. After a month of growth, the juvenile fish, now about 2 to 3 cm in length settles to the bottom on the coral reefs.

Breeding in captivity

So far the queen angelfish is not bred in captivity, as in nature, breeding and spawning takes place in pelagic (open sea) conditions.

Queen angelfish aquarium

Young fish are available for aquarium keeping. It is considered moderately hard to maintain these angelfish in captivity. They require a large tank of 250 gallons or more.

The quality of sea water is very important and near natural parameters must be maintained. For detailed information visit the pages on queen angelfish aquarium and quick facts.

Conservation status

IUCN Red List status has evaluated and listed these queen angelfish as of ‘Least Concern’ (LC). These fish are not considered endangered and there is no restriction on catching and collecting them for human use including aquarium trade. CITES status is ‘Not Evaluated’. There have been reports of ciguatera poisoning on consuming these angelfish species.

1.Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hwttdz/5317433963/
Image author: Joseph Bylund | License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/ CC BY-SA 2.0 (as on 2016-10-22)
2.Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/briangratwicke/2179485240/
Image author: Brian Gratwicke | License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/ CC BY-NC 2.0 (as on 2016-10-22)
3.Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/briangratwicke/3783089792/
Image author: Brian Gratwicke | License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ – CC BY 2.0 (as on 2016-10-22)
4.Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/noaaphotolib/9730767375/
Image author: NOAA Photo Library | License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ CC BY 2.0 (as on 2016-10-22)
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