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Centropyge argi, Cherub Angelfish. Scott W. Michael

Family: Pomacanthidae

Species in Genus Centropyge:

Reference: A PocketExpert Guide to Reef Aquarium Fishes
Image credit: SWM
Text credit: SWM


The reef tank is a perfect environment for pygmy angelfishes as these aquariums tend to be replete with hiding places and grazing opportunities. Most of these fishes feed on diatoms and detritus. While coral polyps are not their natural fare, they will ingest coral slime. The corals that most often serve as feeding substrate are the large-polyped stony corals. If your large-polyped stony corals are always closed and the tank contains a Centropyge species, there is a good chance the fish is bothering the coral.

They have also been known to nip at the oral disc of anemones, feed on their feces, or even eat dying anemones or corals. They may also nip zoanthids and the feeding appendages of feather duster and Christmas tree worms.

There seem to be some consistent behaviors among the pygmy angelfish species, but there are no hard and fast rules. For example, the Cherubfish (Centropyge argi) can typically be kept with most stony and soft corals without inflicting damage. However, an occasional specimen will begin picking at the tissue of large-polyped stony corals, soft coral polyps, and even mushroom anemones. Whatever Centropyge species you are thinking of adding, introducing any angelfish to a reef aquarium always entails a degree of risk.

The corals that are least likely to be bothered by your pygmy angelfishes are those that are highly ichthyotoxic and distasteful. These species include some (not all) members of the genera Lemnalia, Sinularia, Sarcophyton, Cladiella, Paralemnalia, and Efflatounaria.

Pygmy angelfishes are notorious for nipping the mantles of tridacnid clams (the rich slime on these clams is a source of food). If you have a pygmy angelfish and your tridacnid clam stops opening fully, the fish may be picking at the clam’s mantle.

These fishes are less likely to cause serious problems if the tank is large and they are fed more frequently. Introduce pieces of romaine lettuce or sheets of freeze-dried algae (nori) to reduce the likelihood of coral/clam nipping.

Pygmy angels will thrive in aquariums as small as 15 gallons (57 L), but are best kept in larger tanks unless they are being housed on their own. Some species can be very aggressive in a smaller tank, pestering more docile tankmates.