With their striking and endearing appearance, it’s no wonder clownfish are such a popular choice for many saltwater aquarists.
The first fish I ever kept when I started my reef tank was a pair of clownfish named Coral and Reef.
But, due to the clownfish’s popularity, many owners unfamiliar with keeping saltwater species are misinformed when it comes to this fish’s care needs, such as feeding, tank setup, and water parameters.
If you’re thinking of keeping clownfish, then here’s everything you need to know about their care requirements.
Why Are They Called Clownfish?
Clownfish get their name due to their vibrant body stripes, which look similar to a clown’s face paint. You might recognize this species from the films Finding Nemo and Finding Dory!
Origins of Clownfish
Most species of clownfish inhabit the shallow waters of the Red Sea, western Pacific, and Indian Ocean.
They are also located in southeast Asia, Japan, Australia, and the Indo-Malaysian region.
Clownfish are not found in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean, or Mediterranean.
Pixar films Finding Nemo and Finding Dory both feature Ocellaris clownfish called Nemo and Marlin.
In fact, following the success of Finding Nemo, the demand for clownfish almost tripled.
It’s estimated that over 1 million clownfish are harvested from coral reef systems each year – 400,000 of these fish are sent to the United States alone.
This has caused the clownfish population to rapidly decline in coral reef systems, and even localized extinction in certain areas, including the Philippines, parts of Sri Lanka, and parts of Thailand.
Natural Habitat – Where Do Clownfish Live?
Clown anemonefish are found in shallow lagoons or sheltered reefs at the bottom of the ocean.
They are normally seen in pairs and live in host anemones, of which they have a unique relationship with.
The clownfish helps clean its sea anemone by eating algae from its tentacles, protects it from polyp-eating fish like the butterfly fish, and provides nutrients in the form of waste.
The clownfish’s bright coloration also attracts other fish to the sea anemone so it can feed.
What benefit does the sea anemone offer to clownfish?
It provides them with shelter and protection.
Clownfish are normally bright orange in color with 3 white stripes: one on the middle of their body, one behind their gills, and one at the bottom of their caudal fin.
However, their base coloration can also be black, grey, red, or yellow.
They have long bodies and a small dip in their dorsal fins, which makes them look like they have two fins.
False Percula Clownfish
False Percula clownfish have 11 spines on their dorsal fins, while True Percula clownfish have 10 spines.
Clownfish have a rounded caudal fin, which restricts their swimming ability.
This makes them easily overpowered by strong currents or powerful filters.
How Do You Tell If They Are Male or Female?
Clownfish can be a little difficult to sex, but female anemonefish are normally larger than males.
Did you know that clownfish carry both male and female reproductive organs?
They are all born male but are able to change sex to become the dominant female in a group.
This is known as sequential hermaphroditism.
Female clownfish mate only with the breeding male in a group, which is normally the most aggressive and second largest male.
The other fish in the community are sexually immature males.
If the female clownfish dies, the breeding male will begin to gain weight and turn into a female.
The majority of clownfish are a bright orange color with white stripes, but some varieties can be grey, black, red, or yellow.
My pair of clownfish are both orange with white stripes, but I personally love black clown anemonefish with white stripes as they look stunning among live plants and sea anemones.
There are many color morphs of the anemonefish, but below are some of the most popular ones you’ll come across in the aquarium trade.
- Caramel Clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris)
- Misbar Anemonefish (Amphiprion ocellaris)
- Snowflake Anemonefish (Amphiprion ocellaris)
- Black Snowflake Anemonefish (Amphiprion ocellaris)
- Black Ice Anemone Fish (Amphiprion ocellaris)
- Misbar Black and White Anemone Fish (Amphiprion ocellaris)
- Frostbite Clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris)
- Picasso Percula Fish Clown (Amphiprion percula)
- Platinum Percula Anemonefish (Amphiprion percula)
- Misbar Percula Anemone Fish (Amphiprion percula)
- True Percula Clownfish (Amphiprion percula)
- Gold Nugget Maroon Clownfish (Premnas biaculeatus)
- Gold Stripe Maroon Anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus)
How Big Do Clownfish Get?
Clownfish are a relatively small reef fish, with most reaching lengths of roughly 4.3 inches. Females are typically larger than males.
The largest species of anemonefish is the Gold Stripe Maroon Anemonefish, which can grow up to 6 inches.
The True Percula Anemonefish, on the other hand, is the smallest species and reaches around 2.8 to 3.1 inches in length.
Types of Clownfish
Clownfish come in a huge range of color morphs, all of which can look phenomenal in a reef tank.
Most species in the aquarium trade are Ocellaris clownfish, but there are some other species you can find.
- Ocellaris Clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris)
- True Percula Clownfish (Amphiprion percula)
- Picasso Clownfish (Amphiprion percula)
- Cinnamon Clownfish (Amphiprion melanopus)
- Tomato Clownfish (Amphiprion frenatus)
- Maroon Clownfish (Premnas biaculeatus)
- Clarkii Clownfish (Amphiprion clarkii)
- Pink Skunk Clownfish (Amphiprion perideraion)
- Saddleback Clownfish (Amphiprion polymnus)
What Is the Rarest Clownfish?
The Peace Keeper Maroon Clownfish is one of the rarest (and most expensive) varieties of clownfish.
It’s an aquarium strain of the Premnas biaculeatus clownfish and is not found naturally in the ocean.
This type of clown anemonefish can sometimes be found at some stores that specialize in saltwater species, but not very often.
If you’re curious on what they look like, take peek at the video below…
The Peace Keeper Maroon Clownfish is a bright orange color with white splodges that resemble a mosaic pattern.
Blue Stripe Clownfish are also very rare and seldom seen in the aquarium trade as they don’t thrive in captivity.
Do Blue Clownfish Exist?
Blue clownfish do exist, but they don’t have a blue body like you first might imagine.
The Blue Stripe clownfish has an orange body with bluey-white stripes.
Can Clownfish Survive Without Host Anemones?
Clownfish in the wild can’t survive without a host anemone as they would have no means to protect themselves from predators.
However, captive-bred clownfish can live without a host anemone.
In fact, tank-raised clownfish are usually less aggressive and territorial without sea anemones.
Keeping a sea anemone in a tank is hard work as they require pristine water conditions and specific oxygen, macronutrient, and lighting levels to thrive.
What Is Symbiosis? Sea Anemones and Clownfish
Symbiosis is a mutually advantageous relationship between organisms from different species.
Clownfish and sea anemones have a symbiotic relationship.
The clownfish benefits a sea anemone in many ways.
It helps clean the anemone by eating algae off its tentacles, chases away poly-eating fish, provides nutrients in the form of waste, and attracts other fish due to its bright coloration.
The tentacles on a sea anemone sting and kill other fish, but not clownfish.
On the rare occasion that sea anemones sting a clownfish, the fish is protected due a thick mucus coating on its skin.
It’s believed that some species of clownfish are innately protected from a host anemone’s sting, while others acquire it.
The latter is done by repeatedly rubbing against the anemone’s tentacles.
At first, the fish will be stung by their host anemone, but will gradually build up a tolerance to the sea anemone’s sting.
In turn, the sea anemone provides the clownfish with shelter and protection from predators in the ocean.
It also gives them a food source – algae on the sea anemone’s tentacles and leftover fish after a meal!
Do Clownfish Make Good Pets?
Clownfish can make excellent pets, especially if you’re new to keeping saltwater species. Anemonefish are hardy, relatively easy to care for, and don’t require a huge tank like some other reef fish.
Can You Raise Them in Captivity?
Clownfish can be raised in captivity, and many species available in the aquarium trade are captive bred.
Anemonefish breed readily in home aquariums, but you’ll need to be prepared to successfully hatch the larvae and raise the fry.
If you want to know about breeding anemonefish, stick around as I’ll be going into more detail about this later on!
How Long Will a Clownfish Live?
The lifespan of a sea anemonefish is widely debated, with some sources claiming anywhere from 3 to 10 years.
Wild anemonefish can live between 6 to 10 years if they’re very lucky and never run into predators!
However, with good care, it’s not unrealistic for your clownfish to exceed well over this estimated lifespan.
If you take a glimpse on some fishkeeping forums, you’ll find a lot of anemonefish owners who have had their clown anemonefish reach their teens and even twenties!
Are Clown Fishes Dangerous to Humans?
Clownfish are not poisonous or venomous, so they pose no risk to humans.
A lot of small animals have bright coloration to advertise to predators that they are poisonous, but clownfish are vibrant to inform predators of the venomous sea anemones they inhabit.
How Much Does a Clown Fish Cost?
The price of an anemonefish varies depending on the color morph and species.
Ocellaris clownfish that are the standard orange color with white stripes are normally around $15. The rarer the color morph or species, the higher the price.
What Do They Eat?
Clown anemonefish are omnivores, which means they eat a mixture of plant-based and meat-based foods.
Wild anemonefish eat algae, zooplankton, small crustaceans, algae, worms, or any fish leftovers from the host anemone.
They will also consume dead tentacles of their host sea anemone.
Young anemonefish don’t usually stray too far from their host anemone when feeding in the ocean.
In captivity, you can feed anemonefish high-quality fish flakes or pellets that contain spirulina (algae) to ensure they get enough plant matter. Mysis shrimp and brine shrimp are good options for ensuring your anemonefish get enough protein in their diet.
What Is the Best Food for Them?
The best nutrition for clownfish anemonefish is a combination of meat-based and plant-based foods.
How Should I Feed Them?
You should offer your anemonefish food in an area in your tank with a slow water flow, ideally away from your filter intake.
Clownfish aren’t the best swimmers, so they will struggle to feed in strong currents.
Smaller and younger clownfish will need to be fed close to their safety zone, which is a small area they solely inhabit until they grow larger.
If you have sea anemones in your tank, their safety zone will normally be around there.
How Many Times a Day Should I Feed Them?
Adult anemonefish should be fed twice a day, but juveniles should be fed 3 times a day.
Only offer your clown anemonefish fish as much food as they can eat within a couple of minutes.
Remove any leftovers to prevent overfeeding and fouling of the water.
Any type of substrate will be fine in an anemone fish tank, but aquarium sand is normally used in marine aquariums.
A bare bottom tank is also a solid choice for this fish.
However, you’ll need to take into consideration the substrate needs of other tank mates if you’re keeping your clownfish with other species.
Aragonite sand or crushed coral substrate are fantastic options as they have buffering capabilities and replicate your anemonefish’s natural sea environment.
I personally use aragonite sand in my clownfish tank for the reasons above.
Good filtration is key in any marine tank for keeping water conditions pristine and stable.
A lot of marine aquarists use canister filters as they are powerful and efficient, but power filters and internal filters are also suitable.
You’ll have to make sure your filter has an appropriate flow rate for the size of your tank. It should be able to filter at least 4 times the volume of your tank every hour.
For example, a 20-gallon tank will need a flow rate of at least 80 gallons per hour (GPH).
Anemonefish are poor swimmers, so make sure you can adjust the flow of your filter so it outputs a gentle and slow current.
Clownfish live in warm sea waters in the wild, so a heated tank is a must for keeping this fish.
To increase the temperature of your tank water, you’ll need a fish tank heater.
There are a few types of fish tank heaters to choose from, including submersible, immersible, and substrate heaters.
The one you use is mostly down to personal preference, but most aquarists use submersible heaters.
Fish tank lights are another piece of equipment you’ll need for your clownfish to help replicate a natural day and night cycle.
If your setup only contains fish, then any lighting system will do the trick.
LED lights, fluorescent lights, or metal halide lights are suitable choices, but I personally use LED lights as they’re inexpensive and relatively long lasting.
If you have live plants, coral, or sea anemones in your anemonefish tank, then you’ll need a powerful lighting system with the correct color spectrum and Kelvin rating.
I keep my fish tank lights on for between 8 to 10 hours a day. Keeping your lights on for long periods of time can stress out your fish and contribute to an algae outbreak.
Plants and Decorations
Aquascaping is the craft of arranging aquatic plants, as well as rocks, stones, cavework, or driftwood, in an aesthetically pleasing manner within a tank.
Aquascaping is one of the best parts of keeping fish, so design your tank however you like to fit your desired aesthetic.
That said, you’ll need to provide your anemonefish with hiding spots to provide them with shelter and protection from strong water flow.
Don’t overcrowd your tank either, as you’ll need to ensure your anemonefish have enough space to swim.
You can use live plants, artificial plants, coral, live rock, or fake reef inserts in your clown anemonefish tank to provide them with secluded areas to retreat to, as well as make your tank look more exciting.
If you think you can handle it, you could try adding a real host sea anemone for your anemone fishes to nest in.
However, sea anemones are very difficult to keep as they require certain lighting, water flow, water conditions, and oxygen levels to live.
The tentacles on a host sea anemone will also sting and kill any other fishes in your tank, so you won’t be able to house any species other than clownfish in your setup.
In my anemonefish tank, I have live rock and a fake anemone – the latter is quite the hot spot for my clowns, and I rarely see them leave it!
What Size Tank Do Sea Anemone Fishes Need?
A pair of anemonefish need at least a 20-gallon tank, but try to go for a bigger size if you can.
Tanks with other species of fishes will need to be a larger size. If you want to keep a live sea anemone with your clownfishes, you’ll need an even bigger tank.
Leftover food, decaying plants, and waste will rapidly foul your water if you don’t conduct water changes often enough.
This will cause a buildup of ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate, all of which can lead to health issues, stress, and premature death in anemonefish.
To perform a water change in your anemonefish tank, remove around 20% to 30% of old water and replace it with clean new (dechlorinated) water.
I personally do water changes each week in my anemonefish tank, but the frequency will depend on your tank’s size and stocking choices.
Small and overstocked tanks will need much more regular water changes than large and understocked tanks.
That said, even the largest clown anemonefish tanks need water changes to keep the water chemistry stable.
Temperature for Sea Anemone Fish
Clownfish live in warm sea waters in their natural habitat, so you’ll need to use an aquatic tank heater to keep their tank at a suitable and stable temperature.
The temperature of the ocean waters sea anemone fishes are found in are usually spans between 73° and 84° Fahrenheit.
As a result, Anemonefish do best when their tank water has a temperature of around 74 °F and 79 °F.
Use an aquatic tank thermometer so you can check the warmth of your tank daily and keep an eye on any temperature fluctuations.
Anemonefish require a specific gravity between 1.021 and 1.026.
The specific gravity is the measurement of density of water.
Water PH Level
Clown anemonefish prefer their water to have a pH level between 7.8 and 8.4.
This pH is also suitable for many other saltwater species.
Check the pH level of your tap water using an aquatic water testing kit.
You can raise the pH by using baking soda or a pH adjustment product. If using baking soda, add a teaspoon per 20 gallons of water.
Reducing Water PH Level
Alternatively, if you want to reduce your pH, you can add distilled white vinegar (around 1 ml per gallon) or pG adjustment products. The former will decrease your pH by around 0.3 units.
Adding carbon dioxide (gas or liquid products) will also help reduce your pH – it always helps live plants grow.
Changing the pH in your tank should be done gradually so the buffers in your water can become accustomed to the new pH level.
While fish might seem like a relatively easy pet that’s low maintenance, that certainly isn’t the case.
Anemonefish require a fair amount of work and time to keep healthy.
Even after you’ve set up your clown anemone fish tank, ensured it has cycled properly, and added your aquatic animals, the work’s not over yet!
Your anemonefish will need to be fed a couple of times a day, and their enclosure will need to be cleaned regularly to keep the water conditions pristine and stable.
Weekly water tests using a fish tank testing kit are also vital so you can monitor your water parameters.
Last but not least, you’ll need to check your fish over for signs of illness or disease, and examine your tank equipment for signs of damage.
During breeding, anemonefish can become very aggressive, particularly if they are males competing for the attention of a lone female.
In this case, the males can fight to death, which is why it’s best to keep them in a pair rather than a group.
Keeping clownfish in a group will only increase their aggressive nature, especially if you add more than one breeding pair.
Do Clownfish Eat Other Fish?
Due to their aggressive nature, clownfish can attack and potentially kill or eat other species of fish, but a lot of this comes down to your anemonefish’s individual personality.
Most anemonefish can be kept with other saltwater species without any issues, but I personally keep my pair of anemonefish without any other fish to be on the safe side.
What Species Can Live with Clownfish?
Anemonefish can live with a lot of other species of saltwater fish, but make sure their tank mates are relatively small and slow-moving.
You’ll want to avoid large and aggressive inhabitants like groupers and lionfish.
Some popular tankmates for anemonefish are:
- Pygmy Angelfish
How Many Clownfish Can Live Together?
Clownfish are best kept in breeding pairs as they can be very aggressive towards other clowns.
While some aquarists have had success with keeping small groups of clownfish together, I wouldn’t recommend this unless you have a very large tank.
Even in huge aquariums, groups of clownfish can still fight with one another – the dominant clown can kill off the subordinates.
Additionally, don’t mix species of sea anemone fish. For example, Ocellaris clownfish should only be kept with other Ocellaris clownfish.
Can I Keep Just One Clownfish?
Clownfish can be kept alone, but they do much better when kept in pairs.
When selecting a pair for your tank, select small juveniles that are not yet sexually mature to allow them to pair off naturally.
The less dominant clownfish will stay a male, while the more dominant one will become a female.
Putting a pair of fully-grown adult anemonefish that are not established with one another can result in disaster.
Signs of a Healthy Anemone Fish
A healthy anemonefish will have vibrant coloration, eat readily, and generally be active within the tank.
If your anemonefish is sitting at the bottom of the tank or acting lethargic, then that could indicate an issue.
If your anemone fish is sick, there are a lot of symptoms you should keep an eye out for. If your clownfish displays any of the following signs, then they could be suffering from an illness or disease.
- Cloudy eyes
- Missing scales
- Lesions, cuts, or wounds on the body
- Inflamed or reddened gills
- Lethargy or inactivity
- Abnormal swimming pattern, such as swimming vertically, upside down, or on the side
- Clamped, torn, or fraying fins
- Poor appetite
- Subdued coloring
- Stringy white feces
- Antisocial behavior
- Rapid breathing
Common Illnesses and Health Issues
Marine ich is a potentially fatal disease that anemonefish and other saltwater species can contract.
It’s caused by the Cryptocaryon irritans parasite that attaches itself to your fish’s body, making them look like they’ve been sprinkled in salt.
Other symptoms of marine ich include loss of appetite, lethargy, rapid breathing, and rubbing against objects.
Marine ich is very contagious – once you spot symptoms in one fish, chances are your other fish will soon be infected.
It is more deadly in aquatic animals who are already stressed or weakened. Marine ich needs to be treated quickly to ensure the survival of your fishes.
A copper-based treatment is the most effective way to treat marine ich, but make sure you follow the manufacturer’s dosage instructions carefully.
Too much copper can be just as deadly to fishes as marine ich itself!
Invertebrates are highly sensitive to copper, so if you have any in your tank, you will need to relocate them until your main tank has been treated.
Fin rot is a common ailment that affects fish, but it’s quite easy to identify. Fraying, torn, and reddening fins (they may also have white edges) are normally seen in anemonefish with this disease.
Most cases are caused by bacteria, but sometimes fungi is the culprit. Poor water quality is a main contributor to fin rot, which is why it’s so important to adhere to regular water changes.
With treatment, your anemone fish’s fins should repair themselves and grow back normally. However, severe cases can lead to complete destruction of the fins if left to progress.
Bacterial fin rot is treated with an antibacterial medication, while antifungal medication is used to treat fungal fin rot. You can find fin rot medication at most pet stores in the aquarium section.
Bear in mind that medication alone won’t be enough to prevent fin rot from returning – you’ll need to improve the quality of your water to keep this disease at bay.
Keeping your tank clean will also aid with your fish’s recovery and help them regrow their fins faster.
How Do I Get Male and Female Clownfish to Breed?
If you want to breed clownfish, you’ll need an established mating pair.
The easiest and quickest way to do this is to purchase a breeding pair from an aquarium store.
Alternatively, you can house a small male clownfish with a large older female, or house two juveniles together and wait for nature to take its course.
In the latter, the larger and more dominant individual will become a female, while the less dominant one will stay a male.
Provide your anemonefish with plenty of hiding spots such as live/artificial plants, live rock, or even a clay pot positioned on its side to help your fish feel more safe.
This will also provide them with a surface to lay their eggs on.
Put your aquarium light on a timer so it’s on during the day and off during the night.
Keeping your light on for too long can be stressful for your anemonefish, which will make them less likely to breed and lay eggs.
Make sure your anemone fish tank has pristine and stable water conditions and your fish are getting enough food.
When the male and female are getting ready to spawn, the female will become thicker around her middle body. This means she’s close to releasing eggs.
The male and female may also begin to clean rocks or the surface they plan to lay their eggs on.
Once the female lays her eggs, the male will fertilize them externally. Clown anemonefish eggs, while small, are easy to spot as they are bright orange in color.
Males will help aerate the orange eggs by waving their fins over them and will remove any that are infertile or have died. The orange eggs will hatch within 7 to 10 days.
How to Care for Clownfish Fry
Once your male and female clownfish have become new parents, they will look after the eggs until the eggs hatch.
After the eggs have hatched, the male and female will cease their care.
You can leave the eggs in with the males and females until they hatch, or collect them as soon as they have been laid.
That said, new anemone fish larvae are very tiny and difficult to harvest once they’ve hatched.
You’ll also need to use an air bubbler to help aerate the new eggs – this is something males and females would normally do.
Move the newly hatched larvae to a separate 10-gallon tank without any other fish, including the parents (other fishes, including the parents could eat the larvae!)
While in the egg sac, new embryos will feed on the yolk.
However, once they hatch, they will need to be fed rotifers (microscopic aquatic animals). Rotifers can be found online or occasionally found at aquatic stores.
Larvae Tank Maintenance
On the second day, you should start cleaning your tank.
Siphon out any gunk or waste from the bottom daily so your water doesn’t become dirty.
Use a sponge filter in your new anemone fish larvae tank as other filter types are much too powerful for new anemone fish larvae. You’ll need to feed the new larvae rotifers for 10 days.
At around 8 to 10 days old, the larvae will go through metamorphosis. At this point, they will become baby anemone fishes!
Do a big water change around this time.
After this, you can start feeding the new anemone fish larvae ground up flakes or pellets. You can gradually decrease the amount of rotifers you add to their water.
At around 2 weeks old, the new anemone fishes can start eating larger foods such as bigger ground up chunks of pellets/flakes.
At 20 days old, the new fry will be ready to be moved to a growout tank – they will look like miniature versions of adult anemone fishes.
Will Male and Female Clownfish Eat Their Eggs?
Male and female clownfish can eat their eggs, particularly if they are new and inexperienced parents.
Additionally, after the orange eggs have hatched, males and females will sometimes consume the fry.
To reduce the risk of your male and female clownfish eating their orange eggs, it’s best to move the fry to a separate tank.
Although they require a bit of work and time to own, anemonefish are an excellent fish for beginners and experienced saltwater aquarists alike.
Not only are they fascinating to observe, but their striking appearance makes them an eye-catching centrepiece in any home.
No matter whether you opt for black, orange, red, grey, or yellow sea anemone fishes, any one is sure to become a stunning new addition to your tank.
Despite owning a variety of saltwater and freshwater fish, my clowns are definitely one of my favorites.
I never get tired of watching them swim around their tank – normally towards the top to beg for more food!
I hope I helped you understand more about what goes into caring for anemonefish, but let me know if there’s anything I’ve missed that you’re unsure of!
If you’re looking for more in depth guides on saltwater, coldwater, and freshwater fish species, then check out our other posts!