Emperor Angelfish…A Hardy, Beautiful Bully!

Pomacanthus imperator is a spectacularly beautiful marine tropical fish found in the warm coral reef waters of the world.  It’s habitat includes the Indo-Pacific: Red Sea and East Africa to the Hawaiian Islands, (though I’ve never seen one from Hawaii) It also occurs in southern Japan and south to the Great Barrier Reef and  New Caledonia.


I became acquainted with this magnificient angelfish back in the early 1970’s as a hobbyist and then again in the mid 1970’s  when I was working in the aquarium trade for a wholesale company on Long Island.  One of the striking characteristics of this species is the amazing shape and color transformation the animal displays as it matures from the juvenile to adult stage.

Our new baby Emperor Angelfish (Pomacanthus im...

Our new baby Emperor Angelfish (Pomacanthus imperator, juvenile) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Though this type of transformation is fairly common in many species of marine angelfish, the striking change the Emperor Angelfish displays is truly amazing. In some species the juvenile stage is the more exotic colorful and unusual.  Then as the fish grows the colors and configurations become more drab and lackluster.  In the case of the Emperor the exact opposite id true.  Though the juvenile shows remarkable colors and patterns that delight the eye,  the adult form of the animal is a crescendo of subtle blues, yellows and black hues looking nothing like the younger fish.

emperor angelfish, Pomacanthus imperator

emperor angelfish, Pomacanthus imperator (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Emperor makes a great aquarium inhabitant.  It eats a wide variety of foods from clam and krill to bloodworms, mysis shrimp and prawn.  It will also take prepared flake foods. I find the OMEGA-1  dry foods to be their favorite but they really like the marine “chips” that are made by Instant Ocean.  They will eat the Tetra Marine Flakes as well. As is the case with all species of marine tropicals,  it will thrive when offered a wide variety of choices. Though the prepared foods contain all of the “necessary” ingredients, to maintain animal’s vibrant colors and healthy body weight fresh seafood is a must!  The Emperor is not recommended for a reef situation as they will aggressively devour most small invertebrates, sponges and delicate corals.  They also find anemones quite delicious, seemingly immune to the coelenterates sting.

English: Pomacanthus imperator (Emperor angelf...

English: Pomacanthus imperator (Emperor angelfish) juvenile in East Timor (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Emperor Angelfish is a very territorial creature and generally will attack and chase other individuals of the same genus that encroach on it’s chosen area on the reef.  In an aquarium setting it is suggested that the fish be kept in nothing less than 100 gallons of water for optimal health.  It will take on and chase other fish in an aquarium setting so plenty of room and plenty if suitable cover for take mates is important.  Shy or retiring types of fish will not do well in the presence of the Emperor.

The Emperor Angelfish is not prone to many of the common diseases that afflict marine tropicals in captivity with one glaring exception.  They can come down with a nasty case of lateral line disease the cause and treatment thereof are still highly debated amongst experts worldwide.  Here is an excellent article by Jay F. Hemdal, Curator of Fishes and Invertebrates at the Toledo Zoological Society which I found on the internet edition of CORAL: The Reef and Marine Aquarium Magazine, dated May 5, 2011.


It seems that activated carbon dust could be a contributing factor in causing this ailment.  There is proof after several studies that a nutritious diet and regular prophylactic water changes can be a useful deterrent and after occurrence treatment.

Of course the Emperor can and will come down with a case of the ICH from time to time but my experience is that early diagnosis and treatment with a copper based formula has been extremely successful in defeating the parasite.  I use and highly recommend CUPRAMINE, a buffered active copper solution that is manufactured by SEACHEM.  It has shown to be less toxic and quite effective.

In the case of a bacterial infection I have recently found that the tea tree extract, melaleuca, is a wonderful and very effective treatment for fin and tail rot and cloudy eyes. A single treatment eliminated the problem nearly overnight! Tea tree oil is also an effective and useful treatment for dandruff, various types of tinea fungi and other skin ailments in human beings.  It smells great too!  The brand I used for the aquarium application is called MELAFIX made by Fishcare North America Inc.  It’s inexpensive and it works!

There is a wealth of information available on this beautiful animal all over the internet.  Here are a few links that you can check out with additional info.




BTW…I am not paid to endorse ANYTHING.  I only mention products that I have used and that I have found to be extremely and consistently helpful.  If you have stories or other helpful information/photos/video etc of the Emperor Angel,  please feel free to respond.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Joe Refano has been an aquarist since age 10 and was one of the country’s largest importers-exporters of Marine Tropical Fish and Invertebrates in the 1980’s.  At different times over the years he ha maintained several large aquariums in his homes and businesses.  He has also written several articles for various hobbyist magazines over the years.

This entry was posted in Marine Aquariums, Tropical Fish, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Emperor Angelfish…A Hardy, Beautiful Bully!

  1. Pingback: Two Red Sea fish species help each other hunting | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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