Canary Deep Water Damsel

Canary Damsel, Canary Demoiselle

Family: Pomacentridae Canary Demoiselle, Chrysiptera galba, Canary Deep Water DamselChrysiptera galba Photo ©Animal-World courtesy Frank Schneidewind
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I love this fish! The bright colors give some life to my reef. A great fish to have in your tank  DB7

The yellow Canary Demoiselle is one of the most beautiful damselfish available!

The Canary Deep Water Damsel Chrysiptera galba, named for its vivid color, is sure to catch the eye. It is a bright canary yellow, though the nose area can be a dusky green, and like cool "eye makeup" there are two small horizontal lines on the top and bottom of the eye. The dorsal and anal fins can also have a very thin black edging to further accent their wonderful coloring.

Their appearance and body shape is quite unique for a damsel as well. This fish is a much more streamlined with longer, larger flowing fins. It resembles the Gold Assessor Basslet Assessor flavissimus, though the Canary Damsel has a deeper body.

With its brilliant coloring and flowing fins the Canary Demoiselle will make quite a display in the marine aquarium. There are several common names these fish are known by including Canary Damsel and Yellow Canary Damselfish. Because they occur at rather deep reef zones in some areas they are also known as Canary Deep Water Damsel or Yellow Deepwater Damsel.

Not only are these fish very pretty, they are small, only reaching about 3 1/2 inches (9 cm) in length. These are seasonally available fish most commonly imported from the Cook Islands where they can occur in waters as deep as 150 feet. They suffer severely from shipping stress resulting in a higher mortality rate than other damsels. When available they also command a high price. Acclimating them properly is very important for their long term survival.

They are a good pick due to their hardiness once acclimated, making them great for any aquarist including dedicated beginners. When they adjust to captive life they are quite robust. A single fish or possibly a male/female pair will need a minimum tank size of 30 gallons. Otherwise unless the tank is very large, over 50 gallons, only keep one per tank. Provide crevices for them to hide in and to feel secure. This is especially important while acclimating them.

The Canary Damsel becomes quite pugnacious once it has settled into its new surroundings. They will harass peaceful tank mates, including mellow chromis and other damsels. It will also pick on small anthias and dart gobies. They do get along great with larger semi-aggressive fish in either a reef or a fish only setting, Housing them in tanks over 50 gallons will help calm the savage beast within, but tank mates still need to hold their own with the Canary Deep Water Damsel.

For more Information on keeping saltwater fish see:
Marine Aquarium Basics: Guide to a Healthy Saltwater Aquarium

Geographic Distribution
Chrysiptera galba
Data provided by
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Pomacentridae
  • Genus: Chrysiptera
  • Species: galba
Canary Deep Water Damsel, Canary Damsel (Chrysiptera galba)

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Captive Canary Damsel for sale at

This seasonal fish commands a very high price due to their unique coloring, shape, and long flowing fins. Shipping stress is the most fatal blow these fish are affected by. Keeping your quarantine tank's lights off and even covered to keep light out is suggested for a few days. Feed gut loaded live mysis or brine shrimp and keep the water very clean. They will adjust to captive life and switch over to prepared foods, however offer them a wide variety. Do not house them with aggressive fish and predators, however semi-aggressive fish are the perfect companions as the Canary Damsel will attack peaceful fish. It is what it is, a damsel, and the bad attitude can't be helped! Tanks should be minimum of 30 gallons for one or 55 gallons or more if you want them to have fish friends. They are very fast and active swimmers and a tank that is at least 4 feet long would be in their best interest. The more room, less attitude!

Canary Damsel - Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gal (114 L)
  • Size of fish - inches: 3.5 inches (8.99 cm)
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 84.0° F (22.2 to 28.9° C)
  • Range ph: 8.1-8.4
  • Diet Type: Omnivore

Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Canary Demoiselle Chrysiptera galba was described by Allen & Randall in 1974, and the genus name was formerly Glyphidodontops. They are found in the Western Pacific in the Southeastern Oceania areas, including the Austral Islands, Cook Islands and the Rapa, Gambier and Pitcairn groups of Islands. This species is not listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Additional common names they are known by relate to their coloring, but also their depth of occurrence. With their vivid yellow coloring they are also known as the Canary Damsel and Yellow Canary Damselfish. In the Cook Islands, where they are primarily collected, they are found at depths of 150 feet so are known as the Canary Deep Water Damsel and Yellow Deepwater Damsel.

About the Chrysiptera Genus:

This species is a member of the very large Pomacentridae family of Damselfish and Anemonefish. It belongs to the subfamily Pomacentrinae in the large Chrysiptera genus. There are currently 34 recognized species in this genus.

Some Chrysiptera species occur at rather deep reef zones, but the majority are found in shallower waters of lagoons, sheltered bays, and coastal fringing reefs. They live near coral growth and may hover close to the substrate. They occur singly, in pairs, or in small loose groups. They are omnivores, feeding on on plankton, algae, and small benthic crustaceans.

This genus contains some of the most beautiful and brightly colored damselfish, as well as some of the smallest. On average the species range about 2.8 inches (7 cm) in length to a few centimeters longer. They may be territorial towards conspecifics, but many are not as aggressive as other Pomacentrids towards other types of fish.

Their small size along with the less pugnacious nature of many of the Chrysiptera makes them suitable for the aquarium. Some of the more passive species can even be kept in groups and may get along with more peaceful tankmates. There are exceptions, however, as some species become highly aggressive in the confines of an aquarium as they mature.

About the Canary Damsel:

The Canary Demoiselle inhabits outer reef slopes, reef faces, and reef channels. They are primarily found at depths of 3 and 98 feet (3 to 30 m), though in the Cook Islands they can occur as deep as 150 feet (45.72 m).

Not much is known about their pairing habits, but are assumed to be similar to others in the genus, where adults may be found alone or can be found in small groups on occasion. Juveniles probably form small groups. Although they are zooplankton feeders, these omnivores consume both algae and planktons.

  • Scientific Name: Chrysiptera galba
  • Social Grouping: Varies - Chrysiptera species occur singly, in pairs, or in small loose groups.
  • IUCN Red List: NE - Not Evaluated or not listed


The Canary Damsel is fairly deep bodied though with a much more streamlined shape than other damselfish and with larger flowing fins. All of their fins are pointed and long and their tail fin is deeply forked and lyred. These damsels are fairly small, reaching only up to 3 1/2 inches (9 cm) in length. Similar to other damselfish, their life span in the wild is likely 2 to 6 years and they probably live the typical 15 years in captivity.

Their bodies are completely yellow with the exception of a very thin outer edge of black on their dorsal and anal fins. The head is dusky yellow to greenish yellow, followed by a single black or dark brown vertical stripe. The stripe is lighter at the top and aligns with black pelvic fins. The eyes have 2 thin black horizontal lines near the top and bottom giving an almost “cartoonish” look. Some specimens have a slightly dusky green nose area. More than likely, juveniles are of similar coloring.

The all yellow coloring combined with their more streamlined body and elaborate finnage makes them stand out as unique. This is seen when compared to others in their genus and even within the family.

  • Size of fish - inches: 3.5 inches (8.99 cm)
  • Lifespan: 15 years - Damselfish generally live up to 6 years in the wild and up to 15 years in captivity

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The Canary Damsels are very easy to care for once they have adapted to captive life. Once acclimated they are hardy and relatively small, making them suitable for a beginning saltwater hobbyists. They will be quite happy in a reef or a fish only setting as long as they have multiple places to hide within rock work and have proper tank mates.

When first acquired they often suffer from shipping stress, resulting in illness and/or death. To help ensure their survival in those first critical days it has been suggested by professional fish keepers to keep them in a dark tank to help them adjust. Cover the tank with the lights off for several days. Offering live mysis or brine shrimp that are gut loaded with nutritious foods may help them to adjust too, since they are zooplankton feeders that are used to moving targets. Keep the water very clean as well during this time.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy - They are moderately difficult to adjust to captivity, but once past the initial acclimation they will be hardy fish.
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner - These fish suffer from shipping stress, but once acclimated are quite hardy. They are suitable for a dedicated beginner willing to put in extra effort to help them adjust.

Foods and Feeding

The Canary Deep Water Damsels are omnivores. In the wild they are zooplankton feeders, but consume both planktons and algae. In the aquarium provide variety in their diet that includes meaty foods like mysis shrimp, vitamin-enriched brine shrimp, cyclops, minced fish or shrimp flesh, and other meaty foods as well as preparations for omnivores. These foods can be given as freeze dried, frozen, pellet, flake or fresh.

Offering live foods initially may help them adjust faster. To get them to eat initially feed several times a day, possibly with gut loaded mysis or brine shrimp, and keep the water very clean. Once they adjust to captive life expand the diet variety to include other meaty foods such as shredded fish or crustacean flesh along with omnivore preparations. You can add color flakes as well.

Once eating they need to be fed at least twice a day. If feeding pellets, make sure they are wet before adding them to the tank so air will not get into their digestive tract, which can cause issues.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Flake Food: Yes - Offer flake foods after they have adjusted, color flakes will help them retain their color.
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes - After they have adjusted pellets can be offered, make sure they are wetted down with tank water before adding to prevent air getting trapped in the digestive tract.
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet - Only needed to get them to start feeding initially, to condition them to spawn, or as a treat.
  • Vegetable Food: Some of Diet - They need very little as they are primarily planktonic feeders.
  • Meaty Food: Most of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day - Feed at least 2 times a day.

Aquarium Care

Once acclimated these damselfish are hardy and easy to keep in a well maintained tank. The minimum tank size is 30 gallons, so make sure water changes are frequent in such a small tank. Regular water changes done bi-weekly will help replace the trace elements that the fish and corals use up. Guidelines for water changes with different types and sizes of aquariums are:

  • Fish only tanks:
    • Nano/Small tanks up to 40 gallons, perform 5% water changes bi-weekly.
    • Medium sized up to 90 gallons, perform 15% bi-weekly.
    • Large Tanks 100 gallons and over, once water is aged and stable, can be changed 10% bi-weekly to 20% monthly, depending on bioload.
  • Reef tanks:
    • Nano/Small tanks up to 40 gallons, perform 15% water changes bi-weekly.
    • Medium sized up to 90 gallons, perform 20% to 30% monthly depending on bioload.
    • Large Tanks 100 gallons and over, once water is aged and stable, can be changed 20% to 30% every 6 weeks depending on bioload.

For more information on maintaining a saltwater aquarium see: Saltwater Aquarium Basics: Maintenance. A reef tank will require specialized filtration and lighting equipment. Learn more about reef keeping see: Mini Reef Aquarium Basics.

  • Water Changes: Bi-weekly - Do bi-weekly water changes of 15% in a reef setting or 20% monthly in a fish only tank.

Aquarium Setup

The Canary Damsel can be kept in a reef setting as well as in a fish only tank. They typically only grow between 2 3/4 - 3 1/5 inches, but are very active and built for speed, so they need plenty of room to get around. They become aggressive as they get older so other tank mates should be chosen wisely. The minimum tank size is 30 gallons, however in that size tank, they should be the only fish or kept as a mated pair due to their aggression.

They swim in mid to lower areas of the tank and will appreciate live rock or other decor that offers several places to hide. Having many places to hide will reduce aggression between them and other fish in the tank. In the wild, the Chrysiptera genus are found in areas of rubble and like to dig their nests underneath dead corals, a half clam shell, or rubble. A substrate of sand makes it easier for them to burrow in.

Any water movement is fine but they do like strong currents when available, such as tanks utilizing a surge device. Any lighting is acceptable unless housed with corals, then the lighting needs to be suitable for the coral. Water temperatures of 72˚F to 84˚F (22 - 29˚C), with pH from 8.1 to 8.4 will keep them happy and healthy. Breeding temperature should be similar to clownfish, with optimal spawning production occurring between 79°F to 83°F (26°C to 28°C).

  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gal (114 L) - A 30 gallon tank is suggested for one fish or a male/female pair. A larger tank, with 50 gallons per damsel, will be needed to keep more.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No - They are built for speed and a nano tank would just be too small for their nature.
  • Live Rock Requirement: Typical Plus Hiding Places - Provide places for them to hide within rockwork or coral.
  • Substrate Type: Sand - Chrysiptera genus prefer to dig under rubble and dead coral.
  • Lighting Needs: Any - It has no special lighting requirements, though if kept with live coral the coral may need strong lighting.
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 84.0° F (22.2 to 28.9° C)
  • Breeding Temperature: 79.0° F - The optimal temperature for good quality eggs and larvae occurs with temperatures of 79° F to 82° F (26° - 28°C).
  • Specific gravity: 1.023-1.025 SG
  • Range ph: 8.1-8.4
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Any - They do like strong currents when available.
  • Water Region: Bottom - They inhabit the mid to lower areas of the tank.

Social Behaviors

Like all damsels, they can become territorial and aggressive as they get older. This genus of damsels has a wide array of temperaments, with the Canary Damsel being one of the more aggressive, though not as aggressive as the Blue Devil Damsel Chrysiptera cyanea!

They can be kept singly, but will get along as a male/female pair in a semi-aggressive community fish only or reef tank. In a tank that is at least 50 gallons they can be kept with other fish that have similar aggression attitudes, though not with other damsels or clownfish. Like others in their genus, you may keep them in small groups as juveniles, but as adults they are best kept alone or as a mated pair.

They will get along with moderately aggressive fish or much larger fish. Passive fish such as other chromis or damsels that are laid back, smaller anthias, dart gobies and peaceful clownfish will be attacked. They can be kept with damsels of similar temperament or with more aggressive, larger clownfish if the tank is at least 100 gallons. Provide an additional 50 gallons per damsel.

Canary Damsels can hold their own with larger semi-aggressive fish, though large aggressive fish like Clown Triggerfish or large dottybacks would not be good tank mates. A larger tank size is the main aggression dissipater. Do not house with fish who can swallow them whole, in fact any predatory fish will keep them hidden.

In a reef setting they thrive. They work great in the reef aquarium as they pose no threat to corals or decorative Invertebrates. They won't bother any large or small invertebrates, but may eat a copepod or two.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive - Although they are considered semi-aggressive, they are one of the more pugnacious of their genus.
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species - conspecifics: Sometimes - They can be kept singly, but may also be kept in small groups as juveniles in larger tanks, and can be housed as a male/female pair.
    • Peaceful fish (gobies, dartfish, assessors, fairy wrasses): Threat - Canary Damsels are too aggressive for these fish.
    • Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Monitor - Tank should be over 100 gallons if attempting to keep them with aggressive clownfish, or dwarf angelfish. Do not keep with small anthias.
    • Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Monitor - Tank should be over 100 gallons if attempting to keep them with aggressive clownfish, or dwarf angelfish. Do not keep with small anthias.
    • Aggressive (dottybacks, 6-line & 8-line wrasse, damselfish): Monitor - Larger dottybacks may be too aggressive, unless the tank is over 100 gallons. Other damsels need to be of similar temperament in tanks. Allow 50 gallons per damsel.
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (tangs, large angels, large wrasses): Safe
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (lionfish, groupers, soapfish): Threat - Do not house with fish large enough to swallow them. Even a smaller predatory fish that cannot swallow them whole would make these damselfish too afraid to come out and feed.
    • Slow Swimmers & Eaters (seahorses, pipefish, mandarins): Threat - Canary Damsels are too aggressive to be housed with these fish.
    • Anemones: Safe
    • Mushroom Anemones - Corallimorphs: Safe
    • LPS corals: Safe
    • SPS corals: Safe
    • Gorgonians, Sea Fans: Safe
    • Leather Corals: Safe
    • Soft Corals (xenias, tree corals): Safe
    • Star Polyps, Organ Pipe Coral: Safe
    • Zoanthids - Button Polyps, Sea Mats: Safe
    • Sponges, Tunicates: Safe
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Safe
    • Starfish: Safe
    • Feather Dusters, Bristle Worms, Flatworms: Safe
    • Clams, Scallops, Oysters: Safe
    • Copepods, Amphipods, Mini Brittle Stars: Safe - May eat some copepods but should not decimate populations.

Sex: Sexual differences

Sexual differences are unknown, though males may be larger.

Breeding / Reproduction

All damsel species are similar to clownfish and follow the general breeding pattern of clownfish. Successful breeding requires perfect water parameters and a large, non-predatory aquarium system. Similar to clownfish, optimal spawns are between 79°F to 83°F (26°C to 28°C). If breeding in captivity, note that brittle stars, serpent stars, wrasses and crabs will eat the eggs of damselfish. The eggs and larvae are much smaller than clownfish, and are difficult to rear.

Canary Damsels have spawned in captivity. They have similar spawning habits as others in their genus, such as the Blue Devil Damsel Chrysiptera cyanea. Blue Devil males have their own territory, which is near a nesting site. This site has rubble or a half of a shell from a clam near the entrance. The day before spawning, a female will visit the males in her colony, including any males she has spawned with in the past. When she chooses a fit and healthy male she will stop swimming, and then facing upward, will flash a light ring around each eye.

Once the female has “solicited” a male whose nest she wants to inspect, the male starts a performance with hopes of impressing her. After she evaluates his display, the female will then follow the male to his nest to see how many eggs he has. She will stay up to 20 minutes inspecting his “crib” and then move on to the next male. She is not ready to lay her eggs during this “evaluation” and she is very picky. She will review a lot of potential mates, even traveling up to 325 feet (100 m) in distance from nest site to nest site.

At dawn of the next day, the female immediately spawns with the male who is largest, put on the best “dance,” and has the most eggs. If there is another female who has decided on the same male, she will wait her turn at the entrance of the nest. Up to 4 females have been seen at one nest site spawning one at a time, one after the other, with the same male.

These nests can have almost 10,000 eggs, donated from several different females. Males have even been known to abandon their small egg clutch to take over a larger abandoned egg clutches of another male. They know that the more eggs they have in their nest, the better the chance the female will spawn with them. The male will stay and protect his eggs (and the eggs of the missing male if needed) until they have hatched, which can take 4 days. The larval stage for Chrysiptera species can last between 10 to 50 days. See general breeding techniques under Clownfish on the Marine Fish Breeding page.

  • Ease of Breeding: Difficult - The eggs and larvae of damselfish are quite small and the fry are difficult to rear.

Fish Diseases

Demoiselles of the Chrysiptera genus are very durable damsels once acclimated. The most dangerous time in their lives is the shipping stress they deal with. Overall they are tough and do not often fall ill, but it has been documented that there seems to be an unexplained “sudden death” that damselfish can fall victim to. There are no signs, the fish is just dead one day. They can contract any normal disease that other saltwater fish are susceptible to. But it is pretty rare unless they are captured with an illness already in motion, so a quarantine period is a good idea.

Damselfish are susceptible to Marine Ich Cryptocaryon irritans, also called White Spot Disease or Crypt, Marine Velvet or Velvet Disease Oodinium ocellatum (Syns: Amyloodinium ocellatum, Branchiophilus maris), and Uronema disease Uronema marinum. All of these are parasites.

The most easily cured of these is Crypt (salt water Ich), but they are all treatable if caught in a timely manner. Marine Velvet is a parasitic skin flagellate and one of the most common maladies experienced in the marine aquarium. It is fast moving primarily infects the gills. Uronema disease, which is typically a secondary infection, is very deadly and will attack your damsel quickly and lethally.The first symptom is lack of appetite. It is most often contracted when the aquarist lowers the salinity to treat another type of illness, but doesn't lower it far enough. This parasite thrives in mid-level brackish water salinity, which is a specific gravity of around 1.013 to 1.020.

Treat your new damselfish as gingerly as you would any other saltwater fish, and they will respond well. Anything you add to your tank that has not been properly cleaned or quarantined, including live rock, corals and fish can introduce disease. The best prevention is to properly clean or quarantine anything you want to add to the tank. For information about saltwater fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.


The Canary Deep Water Damsels are seasonal. They are occasionally available from pet stores and online, and you may be able to order them, but they are quite expensive. They are primarily imported from the Cook Islands where they occur at depths down to 150 feet, so collection is more difficult than with shallower dwelling damselfish.


Author: Clarice Brough CFS, Carrie McBirney, David Brough CFS
Lastest Animal Stories on Canary Damsel

DB7 - 2007-01-30
I love this fish! The bright colors give some life to my reef. A great fish to have in your tank

Danny - 2006-01-18
Don't just pick the first one you see. They range from banana yellow to almost yellow. You definitely want to choose the darkest yellow. They grow up to look confusingly close to the lemon angel from afar. I love the colors they add. They are mostly passive and work well in small groups. They swim around a lot too.

Tony T. - 2009-04-09
My canary damsel is the hardiest of the hardiest! He has lasted through two cycles in both of my tanks. He's a soldier!

RICH - 2005-01-19
This site helped me alot especially when I was starting my saltwater tank