Three-spot Angelfish, Threespot Angelfish, Three spot AngelFamily: PomacanthidaeApolemichthys trimaculatusPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy Pavaphon Supanantananont
The Three-spot Angelfish is bold in color and peaceful in demeanor, but difficult to keep long term!
The Flagfin Angelfish Apolemichthys trimaculatus is a very pretty angel. It is bright yellow overall, accented with an alluring purple mouth and a prominent black spot on its forehead. It can reach up to 9.8” (25 cm). It is also commonly called the Three-spot Angelfish because of the spot on the forehead, one above the eye, and a faded spot behind each gill cover.
The Apolemichthys genus contains only 8 species with the Flagfin Angelfish being one of the most commonly imported. This group contains some of the hardiest of the angelfishes, but unfortunately the handsome Threespot Angelfish is not one of them. are not easy angelfish to maintain in the aquarium long term due to their dietary requirements.
The Flagfin angelfish is difficult to keep and suggested only for experienced aquarists. The challenges with this pretty angel are that it is extremely timid and easily stressed. Consequently they don't handle shipping very well, are easily intimidated, and only want to eat foods they recognize. Their natural diet consists of sponges, tunicates, benthic algae and weeds. Adults and very small juveniles do not ship well and generally refuse to eat. Young specimens, those between 2 to 3.9 inches (5 - 10 cm), are the easiest to acclimate.
The ideal tank for them is a mature reef type aquarium that is at least 100 gallons (378 liters). They need rockwork creating lots of caves for refuge, a lot of open swimming area, and tank mates that are peaceful. They do tend to be a bit picky feeders, especially as adults. Having live rock and/or algae growth in an established tank can help them to acclimate. You can also help them acclimate initially by providing sponges until they learn to eat the new foods that you are providing. Once established the Three Spot Angel will accept a variety of aquarium foods. Be sure their diet includes plenty of plant matter, prepared foods that contain spirulina, as well as sponge material and meaty foods.
The Flagfin Angelfish can be kept in a community aquarium and even mixed with other angelfish if the aquarium is large enough. It is a semi-aggressive angelfish, but can be easily intimidated when first introduced to the tank. The best tank mates are those that are not overly excitable feeders or overly aggressive. This angelfish is considered one of the safer choices for a reef aquarium as they tend not to pick on sessile invertebrates. But as with many of the large angelfish, an older adult can start to reek havoc on the reef, so be cautious. In a reef setting they will eventually eat most of the sponge and any other corals, so are not a great candidate for reef tanks.
For more Information on keeping saltwater fish see:
Marine Aquarium Basics: Guide to a Healthy Saltwater Aquarium
Threespot Angelfish or Flagfin Angelfish (Apolemichthys trimaculatus)
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Threespot Angelfish feeding in an aquarium.
The Threespot or Flagfin Angelfish, Apolemichthys trimaculatus, does not commonly do well in captivity, unless the aquarist is willing to spend time housing it properly and getting it to feed. Lots of mature live rock is a necessity with algae, tunicates and sponges growing on it. This will enable them to feed off these natural foods on the rock until they can be coaxed into eating prepared foods with sponge material. Do not keep with boisterous feediers or any aggressive fish since it will hide, not feed and starve to death. They are bullied by dwarf angelfish. Provide a tank that is at least 100 gallons and plenty of hiding places.
- Size of fish - inches: 9.8 inches (24.89 cm)
- Aquarium Hardiness: Difficult
- Range ph: 8.0-8.4
- Diet Type: Omnivore
- Minimum Tank Size: 100 gal (379 L)
- Temperature: 73.0 to 84.0° F (22.8 to 28.9° C)
- Temperament: Peaceful
The Flagfin Angelfish Apolemichthys trimaculatus was described by Cuvier in 1831. This angelfish is a member of the Pomacanthidae family of the Apolemichthys genus, which currently has only 8 described species. They are found in the Indo-West Pacific covering from the south eastern coast of Africa all the way to Samoa, then from the southern part of Japan all the way south to Australia’s northern coast and surrounding northern islands. It is on the IUCN Red List as Least Concerned (LC) with a stable population.
Other common names it is know by include Three-spot Angelfish, Threespot Angelfish, Three spot Angel, and Three Spot Angelfish. These are descriptive names for its 3 spots on the body including one on the forehead, one above the eye, and a faded spot behind each gill cover. Juveniles also have a black spot near the top back of the body. Juveniles are very similar in appearance to young Goldflake Angelfish Apolemichthys xanthopunctatus.
The typical habitat of the Three-spot Angelfish consists of seaward reefs and lagoons near corals. They feed on sponges, tunicates, benthic algae and weeds, all of which were found in the stomachs of both adults and juveniles. They inhabit depths from 9 to 196 feet (3 - 60 m), with juveniles staying below 80 feet (25 m) on the deeper fore-reef slopes. Adults can be found alone and in pairs, or even form small, loose groups in areas where the species is numerous. Juveniles are usually solitary, being very secretive and hiding within rock work.
This species is closely related to, and hybridizes with the Indian Yellowtail Angelfish Apolemichthys xanthurus in the wild. The offspring were originally thought to be a distinct species. They were called the Armitage Angelfish and initially described as Apolemichthys armitagei , though are now known to be a hybrid.
Author Scott W. Michael, in his book Angelfishes & Butterflyfishes: Reef Fishes Series , describes the Armitage Angelfish hybrid as variable, but typically with a darker dusky upper back and yellow spots on their scales which gradually brightened to a more solid yellow toward the belly area. The head is darker and a black patch is found on the top edge of the tail fin. This hybrid is reported as hardy, accepting flake food which is typical of the Indian Yellowtail Angelfish A. xanthurus parent.
- Scientific Name: Apolemichthys trimaculatus
- Social Grouping: Pairs - Solitary as juveniles. Adults are found solitary, and as population densities increase, they can be found in pairs or small, loose groups.
- IUCN Red List: LC - Least Concern - Stable population.
The Three-spot Angelfish has an elongated, oval, flat body, which is a bright yellow. Their lips are blue, with black spots on the forehead, above each eye, and a faded spot on each of the gill covers. The adult has a yellow to white anal fin, but both colors are black in the bottom half. The Flagfin Angelfish will darken when intimidated. These fish will grow up to 10” (26 cm) and can have a lifespan of of 10 years or more. Marine angelfish are known to live from 10 to 20 years in captivity.
Courtesy Hiroyuki Tanaka
Juveniles are a little less elongated. They have a black line on the forehead, a black line through each eye, and a black dot or false eye to deter predators. on the upper rear of the body. The juvenile lacks the blue lips, but generally has the half black anal fin.
- Size of fish - inches: 9.8 inches (24.89 cm) - Purchase sizes between 2 to 4” (5 - 10 cm) for best success.
- Lifespan: 10 years - As with most marine angelfish, the Threespot can live over 10 years with proper care, yet this is rarely attainable in captivity.
The Flagfin Angelfish is difficult to keep long term due to their dietary requirements, so are best kept by experienced aquarists. Providing live rock with lots of algae crops, along with live sponges and tunicates can help to acclimate them to prepared foods. A mature tank of at least 100 gallons (378 liters) is needed, and no dwarf angelfish or other angelfish tank mates that will pester your Threespot Angelfish or intimidate it into not eating as it is acclimating is a must.
Starting out your fish in a reef like environment may be what is necessary to keep them alive longer, though eventually it will eat most of your corals. After the corals are gone, enough lighting is still needed to grow algae for them to graze on. By then, hopefully they have switched to eating some prepared foods. Obtain juveniles between 2” to 4” (5 - 10 cm), for best success. Smaller individuals and adults do not ship well and refuse to feed most of the time.
Author Roger C. Steene, in his book, Butterfly and Angelfishes of the World , suggests "the tank walls should be covered with algae and the hobbyist should offer mysis, artemia (frozen), flake food, freeze dried red mosquito larvae, and enchytrae."
- Aquarium Hardiness: Difficult - Dietary needs and tank size are cost prohibitive for most aquarists.
- Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate - Intermediate to advanced.
The Flagfin Angelfish is an omnivore. In the wild they primarily eat sponges and tunicates along with algae, so any high quality sponge based foods are necessary. They do best with live rock that has plenty of algae growth. Use live mysis shrimp or live brine shrimp to initiate a feeding response. Provide sponge based material to supplement the algae they are eating on the live rock. Also mashing food into areas where a sponge once was, but is already eaten up, may help them adjust to the taste of prepared foods. Once acclimated, enriched meaty foods can be offered, but should not be the bulk of their diet.
It is best to feed small amounts several times per day. It's also important that you feed angelfish a variety of good foods; all kinds of live, frozen, and prepared formula foods. Feed them prepared frozen foods with spirulina, foods with sponge material and algae sheets as well. Chopped fish and shrimp, along with enriched mysis and brine shrimp should also should be provided. A good formula that can be made at home consists of mussels, shrimp, squid, and spinach. There are also several good commercial foods available including Formula II and Angel Formula.
- Diet Type: Omnivore - Needs algae, sponge and tunicates as main foods with little meaty foods.
- Flake Food: Yes - With sponge material added.
- Tablet Pellet: Yes - With sponge material added.
- Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet - Use to initiate a feeding response in new arrivals. Feed live mysis and algae based foods first.
- Vegetable Food: Half of Diet
- Meaty Food: Some of Diet - Offer highly enriched meaty foods as a treat, but not regularly.
- Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day - Once sponge and tunicates in tank have been consumed feed prepared foods with these items in the ingredients.
Excellent water parameters are key in helping to keep your Threespot Angelfish healthy. In the minimum sized tank of 100 gallons (378 liters), perform 20% water changes bi-Weekly, more if overstocked. A water change of 30% should be performed with very large tanks over 100 gallons, unless the tank is sparsely populated and water parameters are showing very good quality.
As with all angelfish, keeping the pH at 8.0 to 8.4 is ideal. The pH should never drop below 8.0. Controling pH levels is best resolved by water changes rather than chemicals. Using testing equipment is suggested to tell you when to do a water change.
- Water Changes: Bi-weekly - Water changes of 20% bi-weekly for the minimum sized 100 gallon tank (378 liters).
They can do well in a typical reef setting with live rock and places to hide, but also make sure there is open area for the Flagfin Angelfish to swim. A tank that is at least 100 gallons (378 liters) is needed, with lots of algae growing on the rocks, and aged at least 6 months. Provide Water parameters of: 73-84° F, pH 8.0-8.4, sg 1.023-1.025. Form several hiding places within the rock work, to help your angelfish feel secure.
Not eating and stress are what cause failure with the Three-spot Angelfish. But if provided food, the stress will subside as your Threespot Angelfish recognizes you as a source of food as well. When first acquiring your Threespot Angelfish, stocking the tank with sponges and tunicates, which they eat in the wild, will help them to slowly acclimate. Observe the new fish from a distance and allow feeding to begin. After a few days of feeding off your well stocked tank, add some prepared foods. Put sponge material near some of the sponges you see your fish eating to acclimate him/her to the taste. With patience and peaceful tank mates, your Threespot Angelfish will feel brave enough to come out and feed. In a tank over 150 gallons, a mated male female pair may be kept.
- Minimum Tank Size: 100 gal (379 L) - In a tank over 150 gallons, a mated male female pair may be kept.
- Suitable for Nano Tank: No
- Live Rock Requirement: Typical Plus Hiding Places
- Substrate Type: Any
- Lighting Needs: Any
- Temperature: 73.0 to 84.0° F (22.8 to 28.9° C)
- Specific gravity: 1.023-1.025 SG
- Range ph: 8.0-8.4
- Brackish: No
- Water Movement: Any
- Water Region: Bottom
The Threespot Angelfish is peaceful and works great in a large peaceful community tank. They only become aggressive toward their own kind and other fish of similar color/shape. Do not house with dwarf angelfish, since dwarf angelfish will bully them into not eating and eventually starvation. Clownfish and anthias, though considered semi-aggressive should be okay, just watch for bullying. The Threespot Angelfish will exhibit a darker coloration when they feel intimidated.
They are not considered reef safe, paradoxically, this is what they need to survive in captivity. Though juveniles may be okay in a reef environment for a short time, adults will eventually eat most corals. Housing this angelfish in fish only aquariums is generally done. Yet they do best if started in a reef setting with live algae growing on rock for them to eat. Appropriate lighting for algae growth is needed at least until they will eat all prepared foods. Once fully acclimated, some of the more peaceful angelfish can be added as tank mates in tanks over 150 gallons (568 liters).
If you want to keep them with other angelfish, the tank should be at least 150 gallons with the following guidelines:
- The tank should be mature, over 6 months.
- There should be many hiding places, several for each angelfish. Having lots of places to hide and plenty of room to swim will help the more docile angelfish avoid the “higher ups” in the tank.
- When introducing the first angelfish, they should be the most peaceful of the different genus’ such as the Flagfin Angelfish.
- Always introduce the more aggressive fish last.
- You may place juveniles of two different species, and two different sizes. Make sure you do not put them with other juveniles that are of the same coloration.
- Before adding a new angelfish to a tank with an existing angelfish, feed the tank first.
- If the new fish is harassed, rearrange the rock work and turn the lights off for the rest of the day.
- Remove any angelfish that are constantly fighting and which is resulting in physical injury to each other.
These guidelines can also help in general, when to adding other types of fish as well.
- Venomous: No
- Temperament: Peaceful
- Compatible with:
- Same species - conspecifics: Sometimes - Only mated male/female pair. Will spar with other fish of similar size, shape, and color.
- Peaceful fish (gobies, dartfish, assessors, fairy wrasses): Safe
- Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Monitor - Dwarf Angelfish should not be housed with the Threespot Angelfish. A pygmy angel will bully and intimidate the Three-spot, eventually causing it to not eat and starve.
- Aggressive (dottybacks, 6-line & 8-line wrasse, damselfish): Threat
- Large Semi-Aggressive (tangs, large angels, large wrasses): Threat
- Large Aggressive, Predatory (lionfish, groupers, soapfish): Threat
- Slow Swimmers & Eaters (seahorses, pipefish, mandarins): Threat
- Anemones: Threat
- Mushroom Anemones - Corallimorphs: Threat
- LPS corals: Threat
- SPS corals: Threat
- Gorgonians, Sea Fans: Threat
- Leather Corals: Threat
- Soft Corals (xenias, tree corals): Threat
- Star Polyps, Organ Pipe Coral: Threat
- Zoanthids - Button Polyps, Sea Mats: Threat
- Sponges, Tunicates: Threat
- Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Safe
- Starfish: Monitor - May nip at appendages.
- Feather Dusters, Bristle Worms, Flatworms: Threat
- Clams, Scallops, Oysters: Threat
- Copepods, Amphipods, Mini Brittle Stars: Safe
Flagfin Angelfish (Three-spot Angelfish) do not display sexual dimorphism. The sex is unknown, though males may be larger.
The Flagfin Angelfish has reportedly spawned in a larger public aquarium. Successful breeding most likely can only be accomplished in a very large display aquarium. Most home aquarists will not have a tank large enough to encourage spawning with this angelfish.
Angelfish generally are broadcast spawners, releasing eggs and sperm simultaneously at dusk. They dance then rise into the water column and release their eggs and sperm near the top of the water. Spawning starts before sunset with females extending all her fins as she swims next to the male. The male will go under the female and nuzzle her belly, then darts down about 2.3” to 3.9” (6 to 10 cm). The female then turns to her side and both release a white cloud of gametes containing sperm and eggs. Both males and females may mate with several others on the same evening.
- Ease of Breeding: Unknown
Providing an angelfish with clean water, a proper decor with places to hide, and regular feeding is the best way to prevent illness. Calm angelfish are healthy fish. If not stressed, they will have a stronger immune system to prevent infections.
Flagfin Angelfish can suffer any disease that captive saltwater environments have to offer. Saltwater Ich or Crypt (Cryptocaryon irritans) and monogenetic flukes are the most common parasitic infections angelfish are prone to contracting. Another common affliction is the fungal infection coral fish disease, known as “velvet” (Amyloodinium ocellatum). All three of these illnesses can be treated with a hypo-salinity environment (1.010 to 1.012 specific gravity) for 14 days or longer. After 14 days, or once there are no parasites seen, slowly bring the salinity back up over several days. Do not rush this, or the angelfish can die from the stress.
A viral infection, Lymphocystis, looks like small cauliflower-shaped nodules on the fins and mouth. These nodules are not harmful and come and go. The only time action may be needed is if they were on the mouth area of the fish, preventing it from eating for a prolonged period of time. It's best to do water changes to help the fish’s natural immune system kick in.
To avoid a condition called nutritional blindness in angelfish, which can occur around 6 to 8 months after taken into captivity, feed green leafy food that have Vitamin A, as well as making sure there is plenty of natural occurring algae in the tank.
Fish problems can be broken into one of (or a combination of) these types: parasites, bacterial disease, fungal disease, or physical ailments caused from deficiencies in diet as well as wounds and injuries. To learn more about fish problems and find specific answers, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.
Flagfin Angelfish, or Three-spot Angelfish, are generally available from time to time, and are moderately to higher priced angelfish.
- Animal-World References: Marine and Reef
- Apolemichthys trimaculatus Threespot angelfish, Fishbase
- Apolemichthys trimaculatus, IUNC Red List, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources
- Scott W. Michael, Reef Aquarium Fishes: 500+ Essential-to-Know Species, Microcosm Ltd, 2006
- Scott W. Michael, Angelfishes & Butterflyfishes: Reef Fishes Series , Microcosm Ltd, 2004
- Scott W. Michael, Marine Fishes: 500+ Essential-To-Know Aquarium Species, T.F.H Publications inc., 1999
- Mark Allen, Roger Steene and Gerald R. Allen, A Guide to Angelfishes and Butterflyfishes , Odyssey Publishing, 1998
- Roger Steene, Butterfly and Angelfishes of the World, John Wiley & Sons, 1980