I love angelfish! Rich & I have been extremely fortunate that we have seen this gorgeous creatures on many scuba dives, even shore diving! In fact I would say in our local shore diving locations we frequent, it is rare when we don’t see a few. They are so graceful and to me when I see them I think of the reef’s version of a ballerina.
They are super thin which enables them to turn quickly and maneuver down into narrow cracks between the corals to hunt their prey and avoid predators. They swim by rowing with their pectoral fins. Their long dorsal, anal, and caudal (tail) fins allow them to turn quickly.
There are two different looks for this fish as it matures. As an adult the french angelfish is easy to spot due to the yellow tips on it’s scales. Its body is covered with black scales that are edged with bright yellow crescent tips. All the angelfish fins are black, except for an orange-yellow bar at the base of the pectoral fin and a yellow dorsal fin filament. The caudal fin is rounded, the eye is ringed with yellow with a short white anterior streak, and the chin is white, with a protruding lower jaw. Kind of looks like a serious overbite. It is important to note that the outer part of the iris is yellow, and the eye is narrowly rimmed below with blue.
Juvenile angelfish are black with vertical yellow bands.The juvenile is black with three narrow yellow bars on the body, a rounded caudal fin with a narrow yellowish margin enclosing a large central black spot, and a yellow bar down its forehead that branches around the mouth before reaching the base of the upper lip. It may be blue distally on the ventral fins, as well as near the end of the yellow bar on the anal fin. (Compare this with the juvenile P. arcuatus (gray angelfish), which has a less rounded caudal fin with a broader yellowish margin, and with the forehead bar continuing down over the lips to the chin).
The adult grows to a length of 18 inches; the juvenile to 5 inches. Check out the pictures below so you can see how they transform into adult angelfish.
The angelfish inhabit shallow reefs (10-80 feet), where they ‘scull’ about with their pectoral fins, often in pairs. Juveniles stay near small holes and crevices, often acting as ‘cleaners’ for larger fishes. They love floating around sea fans. The angelfish will feed on sponges, algae, tunicates, bryozoans, zoantharians and gorgonians. 70% of their diet comes from sponges. They excrete a special mucus onto the sponge which helps them to digest it. In my opinion this is another important reason to wear reef safe sunscreen if you must wear sunscreen when diving.
The juveniles are cleaner fish and service moray eels, wrasses, snappers, jacks and surgeonfish. They hide around little holes and crevices and jump out at the other fish. When they service the other fish at the cleaning station they flutter by fast and when it touched the other fish with it’s pelvic fins, it cleans them up.
This species is oviparous and monogamous. As I stated earlier, usually found in pairs keeping the same mate. Spawning pairs are strongly territorial, with both members vigorously defend their areas against neighboring pairs. They do not protect the nest once spawned and they reproduce by external fertilization and are open water egg scatterers.
The flesh of the French angel apparently has good taste and the fish is sold on fish markets. I had not even thought of eating this gorgeous creature! The species is often reared in captivity.
Only a couple more days till I get to swim (hopefully) with these gorgeous ballerinas again!