Garibaldi Damselfish

Family: Pomacentridae Garibaldi, Hypsypops rubicundus, Garibaldi DamselfishHypsypops rubicundusPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy David Brough

The Garibaldi Damselfish is big and bold, both in its rich orange color and its attitude!

The Garibaldi or Garibaldi Damselfish Hypsypops rubicundus is a beautiful bold fish. It immediately stands out with its bright, strong orange color and it has an outgoing attitude to match. It is often describes as being quite "cheeky" by scuba divers as it shows no fear and will come right up to look you in the eye.

This is one big damselfish and is quite a bit larger than those regularly seen in the aquarium hobby. The Garibaldi can reach up to 15 inches (38 cm) in length. With the exception of the Giant Damselfish Microspathodon Dorsalis this damsel is one of the largest of the group.

The juvenile Garibaldi is one of most attractive damselfish. It is very hardy and easily kept in community fish tanks or reefs. Juveniles will be available on rare occasion, but most specimens are less than .65 inches (200 mm) long. Adults on the other hand, are highly territorial and very aggressive. So only large fish species may do well together with this damselfish as it matures.

These fish are reef safe and can also be kept in a fish only aquarium. As juveniles they are very easy to keep in the aquarium without special care. But as an adult, their large size and aggressive, territorial nature creates more of a challenge. They are extremely aggressive towards their own kind, and only one of this species should be kept in the same aquarium.

They need a large aquarium, a minimum sized tank of 100 gallons will work if keeping only one Garibaldi. If keeping them with other fish an even larger sized tank will be needed. Provide plenty of live rock so there will be territories for each fish and lots of places for refuge and hiding.

For more Information on keeping marine fish see:
Guide to a Happy, Healthy Marine Aquarium

Geographic Distribution
Hypsypops rubicundus
Data provided by
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Pomacentridae
  • Genus: Hypsypops
  • Species: rubicundus

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Garibaldi - A Cheeky Fish!

The Garibaldi Damselfish is found in coastal waters of the Eastern Central Pacific Ocean where the water is cooler than tropical locations. We have see this fish in the kelp forests off the California coast in conjunction with the cooler water Catalina Goby, named for an island off the California coast. They are known to divers as 'cheeky fish' since they are curious and unafraid of divers. The Garibaldi is one of the largest fish in the damselfish family, it is a striking orange color, and as a juvenile, is marked with many blue spots. The fins of the juvenile are also outlined in blue adding to its beauty. The Garibaldi Damselfish is a very long-lived fish, it can live up to 25 years. This damselfish should be housed in an aquarium of at least 100 gallons with plenty of live rock to accomodate their territorial nature. They are extremely aggressive towards their own kind, and only one Garibaldi should be kept in a single aquarium. The diet should include various meaty foods, herbivore preparations, and flaked foods. The Garibaldi is sexually dimorphic; the male is larger than the female and also has a lobe on the front of the head. These fish have not been successfully bred in captivity.

Garibaldi - Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 100 gal (379 L)
  • Size of fish - inches: 15.0 inches (38.10 cm)
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Temperature: 68.0 to 79.0° F (20.0 to 26.1° C)
  • Range ph: 8.0-8.4
  • Diet Type: Omnivore

Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Garibaldi Hypsypops rubicundus is also known as the Garibaldi Damselfish. This species is often erroneously spelled Hypsypops rubicunda. It is from the Pomacentridae family, and was first described by Girard in 1854. The Hypsypops genus was described by Gill in 1861 and contains only this single species.

They are found in the Eastern Pacific Ocean from northern California to the tip of Baja and in the southwestern Gulf of California, including Guadaloupe and Rocas Alijos. Their occurrence is rare north of California. The common name of "Garibaldi" is in reference to Giuseppe Garibaldi, an Italian general, politician and patriot who often wore a red shirt as his trademark.

These fish are listed on the IUCN Red List as Least Concern (LC) as they are widespread in the Eastern Pacific Ocean with no major widespread threats. They are fully protected in California coastal waters and are the California official marine state fish. It’s illegal in California to collect them or keep them without a permit. They may be protected in marine reserves of the United States and Mexico as well.

The Garibaldi In general are solitary fish. They do not school but they can occur in loose aggregation at depths down to 98 feet (30 m). They are found in inshore rocky reefs or giant kelp beds in its natural habitat. They swim along rocky bottom areas, often near cracks and crevices, where the water is clear as well as in the kelp forests. Divers often observe adults chasing away all intruders. Adults maintain a home territory and males will fiercely defend the eggs of a sheltered nest until they hatch. These fish feed mainly on invertebrates such as tubeworms, nudibranchs and bryozoans, as well as sponges and algae that grow among the rocky substrates. It is suggested that the sponge diet may contribute to their bright colors.

  • Scientific Name: Hypsypops rubicundus
  • Social Grouping: Solitary - Primarily solitary, but occasionally in loose aggregations.
  • IUCN Red List: LC - Least Concern


The Garibaldi is a bulky deep bodied fish. It is an extra large damsel fish reaching nearly 15 inches (38 cm) in length and weighing around 2 pounds in nature. In the aquarium they will generally reach about 12 inches (30). These are extremely long lived fish, and can have a life span of up to 25 years.

Golden Pristella Tetra
Garibaldi - juvenile Photo © Animal-World
Courtesy Greg Rothschild

The adult's body and fins are entirely bright orange. Very young specimens are reddish orange with numerous blue spots scattered mainly on the upper side. They have orange fins with a blue edge and blue dots on the dorsal and caudal fins. Juveniles are similar to very young fish, but with less and larger spots on the upper side and fins. These more mature fish also have a faint blackish spot on the middle of the dorsal fin and blue lines on the head, just above eye.

  • Size of fish - inches: 15.0 inches (38.10 cm) - They can reach up to 15 inches (38 cm) in nature, though are usually around 12 inches (30) in the aquarium.
  • Lifespan: 25 years - Usually have a lifespan of 17 to 25 years in the captivity.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The Garibaldi Damselfish as a juvenile is very easily kept in the home aquaria without special care. But as an adult, its large size and territorial nature create more of a challenge. A single adult needs to be kept in a large aquarium of 100 gallons minimum. If kept with other fish the tank will need to be larger.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate - Intermediate to advanced, depending on the tank size.

Foods and Feeding

Garibaldi Damselfish are omnivores. In the wild they eat small animals such as tubeworms, nudibranchs and bryozoans, as well as sponges and algae. They do not harm any live corals. No special food is needed in the aquarium and they will accept a wide variety of foods. Provide Meaty foods and herbivore preparations, dried flakes, shrimps, and occasionally tablets. Feed at least twice a day.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Flake Food: Occasionally
  • Tablet Pellet: Occasionally
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet - Brine shrimp, mysis shrimp, as well as other protein sources can be offered occasionally.
  • Vegetable Food: Some of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day - Feed at least twice a day.

Aquarium Care

Garibaldi are very hardy fish and will thrive in a well maintained aquarium. No special care or technique is needed to maintain this fish in the aquarium and it will become a hardy pet. It is usually a very active swimmer and it will venture to the surface for foods when well acclimated. Frequent water changes are not necessary, rather normal water changes at 10% biweekly or 20% monthly are fine.

  • Water Changes: Bi-weekly - Bi-weekly Water changes of 10% biweekly or 20% a month.

Aquarium Setup

The Garibaldi Damselfish needs an aquarium of at least 100 gallons (378 liters). If the tank is too small adults may collide with glasses. A larger tank is needed if keeping it with other fish. This damsel is considered reef safe but may harm live soft corals or small inverts. Adults may also attack ornamental shrimps.

It is most active during the daytime and less so at night, and will hang out across the entire tank.The tank needs to have plenty of open space for swimming. It should be well decorated with rocks/corals creating a stable cave or sheltering ledge. Additionally rocks arranged with plenty of hiding places are especially important for juveniles. Provide good filtration with at least a slow circulation in a tank and water parameters of: of: 68-79° F, pH 8.0-8.4, sg 1.023-1.025.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 100 gal (379 L) - A larger tank will be needed if keeping them with other large saltwater fish.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Live Rock Requirement: Typical Plus Hiding Places - Hiding places are needed to help the Garibaldi juveniles feel secure.
  • Substrate Type: Any
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate - normal lighting - It is best kept under normal lighting, but can also be kept in sunlit conditions.
  • Temperature: 68.0 to 79.0° F (20.0 to 26.1° C)
  • Specific gravity: 1.023-1.025 SG
  • Range ph: 8.0-8.4
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Any - Water movement is not a significant factor, and it can tolerate a stronger flow.
  • Water Region: All - They will spend time in all parts of the aquarium.

Social Behaviors

The Garibaldi does well in a coral-rich tank and a fish only tank, but aquarists need to select fish tank mates. In general are solitary fish that do not school. As adults they are aggressive, territorial, and are intolerant of their own kind. Never introduce more than one specimen of this damselfish in the same tank.

Small or non-aggressive fish species are not recommended tank mates even when the damsel is young. Both younger specimens and adults will be very aggressive toward them. Large specimens of Pomacanthus or Holacanthus angelfishes, sharks and rays, some wrasses, parrotfishes, and sea basses, might be kept with them if they can tolerate the cooler water. They may harm live soft corals and may be a threat to small decorative shrimp.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species - conspecifics: No - They are intolerant of their own kind, best to keep only a single species.
    • Peaceful fish (gobies, dartfish, assessors, fairy wrasses): Threat
    • Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Threat
    • Aggressive (dottybacks, 6-line & 8-line wrasse, damselfish): Monitor
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (tangs, large angels, large wrasses): Safe
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (lionfish, groupers, soapfish): Safe
    • Slow Swimmers & Eaters (seahorses, pipefish, mandarins): Threat
    • Anemones: Monitor
    • Mushroom Anemones - Corallimorphs: Monitor
    • LPS corals: Safe
    • SPS corals: Safe
    • Gorgonians, Sea Fans: Safe
    • Leather Corals: Safe
    • Soft Corals (xenias, tree corals): Monitor - May nip at them.
    • Star Polyps, Organ Pipe Coral: Monitor
    • Zoanthids - Button Polyps, Sea Mats: Monitor
    • Sponges, Tunicates: Threat - A natural food for them in the wild.
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat - May be a threat to small decorative shrimp.
    • Starfish: Safe
    • Feather Dusters, Bristle Worms, Flatworms: Safe
    • Clams, Scallops, Oysters: Safe
    • Copepods, Amphipods, Mini Brittle Stars: Safe

Sex: Sexual differences

The male will be larger and exhibit a lobe on the front of the head.

Breeding / Reproduction

There has been no record of successful breeding of the Garibaldi in captivity. In the wild the adult male maintains a home territory. The male clears a sheltered nest site where the female will deposit eggs. Once the eggs are laid the male will quickly fertilize them and aggressively defend the eggs from any intruders until they hatch in about 19 to 21 days. The male is extremely protective of the area where the eggs are deposited and will attack and drive away any intruders, including larger fish and even humans. For more information on the breeding of damselfish, see Marine Fish Breeding: Damselfish.

  • Ease of Breeding: Unknown

Fish Diseases

Garibaldi Damselfish are very durable and hardy fish. Yet they are prone to any disease that captive saltwater environments have to offer. They are most likely to be affected if they are stressed from inappropriate housing or tank mates. As with most fish they are prone to Marine Ich or White Spot Disease (Crypt), skin flukes, parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), bacterial infections (general), and bacterial disease. It is recommended to read up on the common tank diseases. Knowing the signs and catching and treating them early makes a huge difference. For information about freshwater fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.


The Garibaldi Damselfish will only rarely be sold at retailers and can be quite expensive. They are occasionally available online. Most specimens available will be shipped from Mexico, perhaps with limited permission. It is illegal in California to collect or even keep this species.


Author: Clarice Brough CFS, Hiroyuki Tanaka
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