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Genus Centropyge - Dwarf Angelfishes
Great Angels in a Small Package

Dwarf angelfishes from the genus Centropyge are amongst the best aquarium fishes available to the marine hobbyist. These small (to four inches with some much smaller), colorful fishes have much of the appeal of larger angelfishes but in a size that is more manageable for many home aquaria. Overall, these are relatively peaceful fishes, except when it comes to members of their own species and those from the genus that are similar in coloration. This article provides a basic overview to dwarf angelfish husbandry.


Most, if not all, dwarf angelfishes from the genus Centropyge begin life as females and become males (this is called protogynous hermaphroditism). As adults, sex can be determined by color and markings (dichromatism) in some species and by relative adult size in all species (dimorphism).

The Dwarf Angelfish Ready Aquarium

Dwarf angelfish do best in an established aquarium (at least six months old) with plenty of live rock. Some dwarf angelfishes are considered reef compatible, but all may develop a taste for coral polyps. It is best if the filtration for the system is not overly efficient, although a high rate of turnover providing a strong flow is appreciated. Dwarf angelfishes will be most at home when there is plenty of an alga for them to graze on, so don’t overskim their tank. Finally, be sure there are numerous caves and other refuges for these fishes that are genetically predisposed to being prey.

Adding a Dwarf Angelfish

Once you’ve decided to keep a dwarf angelfish, the most important thing you can do is acclimate it properly. Proper acclimation involves a full quarantine in a separate, low-light quarantine tank. Be sure there are plenty of artificial caves (e.g., PVC sections) in the quarantine tank. Adding a small piece of live rock with healthy algae cover to the quarantine tank can be a great way to get your new dwarf angelfish eating. While quarantined, keep an eye out for any diseases, infections or infestations (see below).

After quarantine, add your new dwarf angelfish to the display tank with the lights out. Make sure your dwarf angelfish is one of the last (if not the last) fishes to be added to your tank, as it will likely be one of the most territorial. If there is already a dwarf angelfish in the aquarium, try to add only dwarf angelfishes that are larger than the one already in the tank. The beginning aquarist might want to avoid adding more than one specimen from the same genus unless the tank is very large or a confirmed pair can be confirmed. If you are going to attempt to add two members of the same species, pay particular attention to size. In other words introduce two fishes of the same species together insuring that one is markedly larger than the other.

Avoid adding two species from the same genus if they are similar in size and color.

Feeding a Dwarf Angel

Once acclimated, most dwarf angelfishes should readily accept a captive diet. While a well acclimated dwarf angelfish may eat meaty foods with zeal, it is essential to also offer them herbivorous foods daily. In addition, as already mentioned, it is best to keep a healthy population of algae growing on the live rock to supplement the animal’s diet. Adding a fresh piece of algae-covered rock rubble from time to time is also much appreciated. When feeding prepared herbivorous foods, consider soaking the food in a vitamin supplement first for optimal health.

Disease, Infection and Infestation

With dwarf angelfishes, be on the lookout for crypto (a.k.a. marine ich), head and lateral line erosion (HLLE) and the so-called “dwarf angel bloat.” The first is a common parasite to which dwarf angelfishes can be particularly susceptible; this is the primary reason you should religiously quarantine all new dwarf angelfishes. Keep in mind that the common treatments for crypto (e.g., copper) are often detrimental to these dwarf angelfishes, and you will have a much easier time dealing with an outbreak in the quarantine tank. The second—HLLE—is a condition that is most commonly seen in tangs and surgeonfishes but which also occurs in angelfishes. HLLE is often a result of poor nutrition or less than ideal water quality. Be sure to maintain water quality and consider soaking foods in a vitamin supplement (e.g. Selcon) before feeding. The last condition is peculiar to those dwarf angelfishes that have experienced trauma from incorrect decompression when captured at depth. The bloating will eventually subside, but secondary infection can easily kill the fish. To avoid this, treat the fish with a broad spectrum antibiotic.


Dwarf angelfishes may be small but they possess all the energy and appeal of their larger cousins. They are beautifully colored, interesting to watch and don’t require the tank sizes necessitated by the larger angelfishes. In addition, they are relatively hardy and long lived, making angelfishes from the genus Centropyge ideal aquarium fishes for most aquarists.

Published 15 September 2008. © Blue Zoo Aquatics


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