Starck's Demoiselle

Starcki Damsel, Starck's Damselfish

Family: Pomacentridae Starck's Demoiselle, Chrysiptera starcki, Starcki DamselChrysiptera starckiPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy Greg Rothschild

The beautiful Starck's Demoiselle is highly prized, and much sought after by aquarists!

The Starck's Demoiselle Chrysiptera starcki is a fish that just about every fish lover, at some time or other, has hopes of keeping in their aquarium. It makes an excellent aquarium pet as it is easy to keep, hardy, and quite disease resistant. Though once it was very rare and quite expensive, with an increase in collecting efforts from the Coral Sea, it is often available today and reasonably priced.

This gorgeous damsel fish is brilliant blue on most of the body and the lower fins, but has a broad yellow band running along the top. The yellow band extends onto the face, upper fins, and tail fin as well. There are two distinct color morphs of this species. The C. starcki which originates from the northern part of the Western Pacific has a yellow tail fin and a mostly yellow caudal peduncle (the base of the tail fin). Those originating from the southern part have a blue caudal peduncle. Other names it is commonly known by include Starcki Damsel, Starck's Damselfish, and Starck's Damsel.

This is one of several bright blue damselfish which sports a striking yellow or golden accent as part of its coloration. One close relative that it is very similar to this fish is the Yellowfin Damselfish Chrysiptera flavipinnis. These two are easily distinguished, however, as the Yellowfin is also blue but has a yellow band running along both the top and bottom, which makes all its fins yellow.

The Starcki Damsels are hardy fish that will reach up to just shy of 4 inches (10 cm) in length. They have a placid disposition and will work equally well in a fish only tank or a reef aquarium. They are not picky eaters and will happily accept just about any foods you offer. They don't need a lot of open swimming space but do need rock and/or coral decor that provides many nooks and crannies for hiding and retreat. They also don't need any special substrate, lighting, or water movement, however they do prefer to hang out at the bottom of the tank. They are great in a reef tank because they won't bother any corals or invertebrates.

To keep a single Starck's Damselfish, a minimum tank size of 20 gallons will be needed. For a male/female pair, or to keep one in a community, tanks that are at least 55 gallons are suggested. Juveniles and adolescents can get along with a variety of peaceful to semi-aggressive fish, but as they mature they are noted for becoming rather aggressive. Adults are best not kept with smaller or overly passive tank mates. Be very careful when adding other fish if you have a mated pair, because all damsels and clownfish claim territories which they will then strongly defend. Of course, if you are going to have larger fish like a large surgeonfish or tang, the tank size should fit the needs of the largest fish.

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

Geographic Distribution
Chrysiptera starcki
Data provided by
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Pomacentridae
  • Genus: Chrysiptera
  • Species: starcki
Starck's Damselfish, Chrysiptera starcki

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Starck's Damselfish in captivity

This deep water damselfish can have an intense blue to bluish purple body with yellow running across their upper back to their yellow tail fin and a white chin. This fish grows to almost 4" and needs a tank that is at least 30 gallons for one or a male and female pair. In that sized tank, do not house with other fish, since that is too small of a territory and they will attack other fish, especially peaceful fish. As juveniles and adolescents they do not cause any problems, however, as they age, like most damsels, they become quite pugnacious. In much larger tanks they do not cause as much of a ruckus, and should still be housed with fish that can keep it in it's place like smaller triggers, puffers, large wrasses and large angelfish. It is a great beginner fish and does well in a nano tank that is at least 30 gallons.

Starck's Demoiselle - Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gal (76 L)
  • Size of fish - inches: 3.9 inches (9.98 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 Starck's Demoiselle Chrysiptera starcki was described by Allen in 1973. Allen described it as Abudefduf starcki from specimens off the Osprey Reef of the northern Great Barrier Reef, Coral Sea. It is now valid as Chrysiptera starcki. The genus name was formerly known as Glyphidodontops. Other common names this species is known by include Starcki Damsel, Starck's Damselfish, Starck's Damsel, and Starcki Damselfish.

These damsels are found in the Western Pacific, but with two disjunct distributions. The northern distribution area encompasses southern Japan, from the Ryukyu Islands to Taiwan and the northern Philippines. The southern distribution area encompasses the Great Barrier Reef (Coral Sea) to Sydney, New Caledonia, Fiji, and the Loyalty Islands. It has also been recently reported from Tonga. This species is not listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

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 the 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 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 Starcki Damsel:

The Starck's Demoiselles inhabit rocky outcrops and crevices situated in sand channels on outer reef slopes. They prefer a deeper water and are generally found at depths between 81 to 169 feet (25 - 52 m), though they have also been observed in water as shallow as 26 feet (8 m) and as deep as 97 feet (60 m).

"Divers in Okinawa photographed several individuals in a loose aggregation at the depth of 197 feet (60 meters). Occasionally in the summer in Hachijo-jima (the Izu Islands) they are observed alone or in a small group at the shallow depth of 26 feet (8 meters) (T. Mizutani, pers. comm., 2006). They are rarely seen in the coastal waters of southern Honshu (Japan). The range in the Philippines is not well determined but it is said to occur at least in northern areas. No record from Indonesia or Papua New Guinea is known. It is common off of Noumea of New Caledonia (Allen, 1975)." ...Hiroyuki Tanaka

This is one of the more placid of the Chrysiptera Genus, yet it is just as sturdy as its conspecifics. In their natural habitat they are observed alone or in small groups. They primarily feed on zooplankton and probably also eat some algae, and they like to feed close to the substrate.

  • Scientific Name: Chrysiptera starcki
  • Social Grouping: Varies - This Chrysiptera species usually occurs singly or in small loose groups.
  • IUCN Red List: NE - Not Evaluated or not listed


The Starcki Damsel is a deep bodied fish. These damselfish are moderately sized, reaching up to just under 4 inches (10 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.

The head and body of the Starck's Demoiselle is blue, but with a broad yellow band along the back tapering toward the posterior part. The throat is yellow to whitish and there are lines on the sides of the cheek. The dorsal and caudal fins are yellow and the anal and pelvic fins are blue. The pectoral fins are marked with yellowish dashes and there is a small black spot at the pectoral-fin base.

There are two distinct color morphs of this species; those from the northern part of the West Pacific have a yellow area on the posterior portion of the caudal fin, and those from the southern part have a caudal fin that is mostly yellow except for its peduncle which is blue. The Starck's Damsel is very similar to the Yellowfin damselfish Chrysiptera flavipinnis. The Yellowfin is also blue but has a yellow band running along both the top and bottom, and all its fins and tail fin are yellow.

This species does not keep its brilliant blue in the aquarium all the time. Sometimes it gets darker, fades, or becomes a deep blue, but still the contrast between its two different colors is always quite attractive. Its bright blue color can be stimulated when it's fed a nutritious diet along with color-enhancing foods. Lighting can also affect its coloring. Those kept in shallow reef tanks with intense lighting can appear somewhat pale.

  • Size of fish - inches: 3.9 inches (9.98 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 Starck's Demoiselle are very easy to care for, making them great for the beginning saltwater hobbyist or any other marine aquarist. These beautiful “Demoiselles” are hardy and will take a variety of foods. They adapt very easily to the aquarium without special care and will do well in either a reef environment or a fish only aquarium. They don't need much open space for free swimming but do need many crevices to hide in.

They tolerate a wide range of non-fluctuating temperatures, but even though they are quite durable, they can still fall ill if exposed to poor water conditions for too long. The tank needs to be at least 20 gallons when keeping a single fish, and make sure water changes are frequent in such a small tank. Doing normal water changes, feeding them a variety of foods several times a day, and having proper tank mates will keep this damselfish happy and healthy.

In the wild cleaner wrasses (Labroides spp.) will help them by taking parasites from their bodies, however these wrasses are extremely difficult to sustain in captivity. Alternative fish such as Neon Gobies (Gobiosoma spp.) can help them by providing this cleaning service in the home aquarium.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner - They are suitable for the beginner, but tankmates must be selected with care.

Foods and Feeding

The Starck's Demoiselle are omnivores. In the wild they feed primarily on plankton (both zooplankton and phytoplankton), but probably also consume algae. In the aquarium provide variety in their diet that includes plenty of proteins.

Offer meaty foods like mysis shrimp, vitamin-enriched brine shrimp, cyclops, finely shredded frozen seafoods and preparations for omnivores. These foods can be given as freeze dried, frozen, sinking pellets, flake or fresh. You can also offer some flakes and other preparations for herbivores. Color enhancing foods can help maintain their bright coloring.

It is best to feed small amounts of food several times a day. Feeding them more often helps to dissipate any possible aggression within a tank, since food is the biggest reason for protecting their little patch of the reef or tank. Sinking pellets work great because these fish tend to feed near the bottom of the tank. They are usually very active swimmers and may venture to the surface for foods when well acclimated. If feeding pellets, make sure they are wet before adding them to the tank so air will not enter into their digestive tract, which can cause issues.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes - Make sure to soak pellets for a few seconds to dispel any air. Use sinking pellets since they stick close to the bottom, and preferably those designed for carnivores.
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet - Only needed if you want to offer a treat or condition them to spawn.
  • Vegetable Food: Some of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Most of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day - Feed several times a day, this also helps to counter any possible aggression.

Aquarium Care

These damselfish are hardy and easy to keep in a well maintained tank. The minimum tank size is 20 gallons when keeping this as a single fish, and even in this small of a tank, water changes should be frequent. 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 10% water changes bi-weekly or 20% monthly.
    • Medium sized tanks 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 tanks 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 Starck's Demoiselle can be happily kept in a reef setting as well as in a fish only community tank. They are moderate in size, typically growing just under 4 inches (10 cm) in length. The minimum tank size is 20 gallons when keeping just this fish, though 30 gallons would suit them better. For a mated pair or when keeping one in a community, 55 gallons or more will be needed. The tank should be well decorated with rocks and/or coral to provide many hiding places, as well as open areas for swimming. They are also fine in a 20 gallon or larger nano aquarium if they are the only ones in the tank.

These fish swim in mid to lower areas of the tank, but as they are often preyed on in nature, they need many places to hide to feel secure. They will appreciate little crevices, nooks and crannies created within rock work (preferably live rock), corals, or other decor. There is no need for a sand bed.

There are no special requirements for water movement or lighting, unless housed with corals, in which case the coral requirements will need to be considered. Water temperatures between 72°F to 84°F (22° - 28°C) and a 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: 20 gal (76 L) - A 20 gallon tank is suggested for keeping a single fish, though 30 gallons would suit it better for long term care. A larger tank of 55 gallons or more is suggest when keeping a male/female pair, or in a community with other fish.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: Yes - This fish can be kept alone in a larger Nano tank of 20 gallons or more.
  • Live Rock Requirement: Typical Plus Hiding Places - Provide places for them to hide within rockwork or coral.
  • Substrate Type: Any - There is no need for a sand bed.
  • 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
  • Water Region: Bottom - They mostly inhabit the mid to lower areas of the tank. Being active swimmers they spend a good deal of time darting in and out of the crevices in the decor

Social Behaviors

This genus of damsels, the Chrysiptera, has a wide array of temperaments, with the Starck's Demoiselle being one of the more placid. Like all damsels, however, they can become territorial and aggressive when kept as a pair and as they get older. Still, they are not anywhere near as aggressive as their cousin the Blue Devil Damsel Chrysiptera cyanea!

The minimum tank size is 20 gallons when kept as a single fish, though a 30 gallon would suit them better. They can be kept singly, but will get along as a male/female pair in a semi-aggressive community fish only tank or a reef tank that is at least 55 gallons. 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. More than two specimens of this species can not easily be kept safely even if there are many hiding places, for they may fight seriously, causing severe damage or death. With a spawning pair the male will viciously guard his eggs, at which point a separate tank may be needed if he begins attacking tank mates.

They can be kept with other fish that have similar aggression attitudes. They will get along with moderately aggressive fish or much larger fish. 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. Fish that could be at risk include small juveniles of butterflyfish and Centropyge angelfish, as well as cardinalfish.

They can hold their own with larger semi-aggressive fish, but keep an eye out to be sure they are not harassing your Starcki Damsel. Potential bullies such as more aggressive damsels and pygmy angelfish will tend to pick on it. In fact, they will not do well with aggressive fish at all, and tend to be the ones picked on by fish that are larger and more aggressive than they are. Large aggressive fish like Clown Triggerfish or the very territorial, larger dottybacks would not be good tank mates. A large tank size is the main aggression dissipater. Predatory fish are also out of the question, and such fish as sea basses that will eat anything, are not recommended if the tank is not large enough.

In a reef setting the Starck's Demoiselle will thrive. They make a great addition to a reef because they pose no threat to coral. They won't bother any large or small invertebrates either, though they may eat a copepod or two.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species - conspecifics: Sometimes - They can be housed as a male/female pair in a 55 gallon tank, otherwise they are best kept singly.
    • Peaceful fish (gobies, dartfish, assessors, fairy wrasses): Monitor - Safe in tanks of 55 gallons or more.
    • Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Monitor - Possibly safe in tanks of 55 gallons or more, but they may harass your Starki Damsel. If housing with dwarf angelfish or the more aggressive clownfish, the tank should be 100 gallons or more with many hiding places within the rock/coral decor.
    • Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Monitor - Possibly safe in tanks of 55 gallons or more, but they may harass your Starki Damsel. If housing with dwarf angelfish or the more aggressive clownfish, the tank should be 100 gallons or more with many hiding places within the rock/coral decor.
    • Aggressive (dottybacks, 6-line & 8-line wrasse, damselfish): Monitor - Dottybacks will be too aggressive. Other small damsels with a similar mild temperament can be kept if the tank provides plenty of room and hiding places. Six- and Eight-line Wrasses may harass your Starck's Demoiselle in smaller tanks.
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (tangs, large angels, large wrasses): Monitor - Starck's Demoiselles may picked on by aggressive large angelfish.
    • 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): Monitor - Starck's Demoiselles will out compete them for food in smaller tanks. Larger tanks over 100 gallons should provide enough food for all though they may still harass them.
    • 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. In the same manner as other members of the genus, a male will move rapidly with gorgeous coloration to attract and invite a female to spawn.

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 those of clownfish, and fry are difficult to rear.

There is no report for aquatic cultivation currently known, but the Starck's Demoiselle may be cultivated in a larger laboratory in the near future as this genus is known to readily spawn 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 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 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 courting performance with hopes of impressing her. After she evaluates his display the female will 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 to spawn 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 know that the more eggs they have in their nest, the better the chance the female will spawn with them. They have even been known to abandon their small egg clutch to take over a larger abandoned egg clutch of another male. 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 and 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 Starck's Demoiselle is often available in stores and online, bit they are a bit more expensive than most others in their genus. They can be obtained as younger to larger specimens, though most that are available are below 2.8 inches (7 cm). Very small juveniles less than 3/4 inch (2 cm) are hard to get.

When purchasing these damselfish to keep as a group, a good rule of thumb is to purchase an odd number to help prevent aggression. Pick several similar sized active specimens along with a single larger specimen (males are generally larger).


Author: Clarice Brough CFS, Hiroyuki Tanaka
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