Coral beauty angelfish (Centropyge bispinosus).
The dwarf or pygmy angelfish of the genus Centropyge are popular with almost all marine aquarists. This diverse genus includes over
35 species and offers something for
everyone. Many species are suitable for
the beginning hobbyist while their colors,
behavior, and willingness to spawn in the
aquarium ensure their appeal to even the
most advanced aquarist.
The following ranking is subjective and
based on my experiences with the various
species. I’ve considered their hardiness in
the aquarium, behavior, and availability in
the aquarium trade, along with their color
pattern. This means that a few worthy
species, such as the resplendent angel (C.
resplendens), did not make the list. If this
diminutive, sexually dimorphic species
was readily available in the aquarium
trade, it would have topped the list, but
its rarity in the hobby has precluded
its inclusion. Two other species worthy
of mention but not included are the
white-tailed or Pacific pygmy angel (C.
flavicauda) and Fisher’s angel (C. fisheri).
These two species are extremely hardy and
available on a consistent basis, but they
just don’t measure up to the fish on the list
in terms of color.
Keeping Dwarf Angelfish
The species included have all proven
themselves to be hardy in the aquarium.
They all feed readily on the typical range
of prepared foods. In the wild, they feed
in much the same manner as the mbuna
cichlids of Lake Malawi. They graze on
algae and incidentally feed on a variety of
small invertebrates that live in the algae.
Their diets should be varied and include
vegetable-based foods as well as a range of
meatier items including frozen, pellet, and
These pygmy angels are all well suited
for inclusion in fish-only, FOWLR (
fish-only-with-live-rock), or full-blown reef
aquaria. Exceptions and cautions will
be noted within the descriptions of the
The Centropyge species mature as females,
but some individuals eventually become
male as they grow and age. This process is
known as protogynous hermaphroditism.
Some species exhibit sexual dimorphism,
but most do not. They live in haremic
groups in nature, and it is possible to keep a
group in an appropriately sized aquarium.
In general, reef or FOWLR systems are best
for housing a group, as a well-constructed