Cloudy Damsel

Indian Dascyllus, Blue Spotted Dascyllus, Striped Damsel

Family: Pomacentridae Cloudy Damsel, Dascyllus carneus, Indian DascyllusDascyllus carneusPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy Frank Schneidewind
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Ha, thats funny! I have a porcupine puffer and cloudy damsel as well, and he doesn't stop terrorising all of them, including my maroon clown which he beat up pretty... (more)  Nick T

The Cloudy Damsel is lively and quick, making a pretty addition to the aquarium!

The attractive Cloudy Damsel Dascyllus carneus has a slightly variable coloring and rather net-like patterning. Its white to dusky body is often adorned with a cross-hatch design and outlined with strong black or brown bands. It usually has a dusky yellow or greenish yellow head and is sometimes accented with hints of blue.Tiny blue speckles on the head and belly area are occasionally seen, and sometimes there is a a hint of blue luminescence on its white tail fin.

This damselfish comes from the Indian Ocean, but is replaced in the Pacific by its very similar looking relative, the Reticulated Dascyllus Dascyllus reticulatus. These two are often confused, and though the Reticulated does get larger it also has a hint of a black stripe in the tailfin. Due to its place of origin the Cloudy Damsel is also commonly known as the Indian Dascyllus and Indian Humbug. Its coloring also lends additional common names like Blue Spotted Dascyllus, Freckled Damselfish, Cloudy Dascyllus, Bluetop Dascyllus, Striped Damsel, and Twobar Humbug.

These are small damsels that only grow to about 2 3/4 inches (7 cm) in length and they may live up to 15 years in captivity. They are readily available, very hardy, and low cost which makes them suitable for beginners. These damsels are not quite as dynamic in appearance as others in their genus, but they are also not quite as cantankerous. Still, they do get aggressive as they mature so tankmates need to be carefully selected.

The Cloudy Damselfish is easy to keep and with their slightly smaller size and slightly less pugnacious attitude, they may make a better choice. In the ocean they will often live in a commensal relationship with corals. Keeping a school of these fish when small will provide an interesting display as they hover over a coral or the rockwork. Yet their peaceful schooling behavior changes, and in smaller tanks they will not be nice to their tank mates as they age.

The aggressive behavior of the adult makes them only suitable for a tank with more pugnacious companions. These damselfish should not be housed with others in their genus unless it is kept as a male/female pair, or if the tank provides at least 50 gallons per damsel. Tank mates should be larger semi-aggressive to aggressive fish. Unlike other damsels the Cloudy Damselfish can be kept with more peaceful fish, but only in a larger tank that is at least 100 gallons.

Provide a tank that is at least 30 gallons for one specimen. If a nano tank is desired, then this should be the only fish in the tank. A male/female pair will need at least 40 to 50 gallons with rockwork or coral to give them a few places to hide. They are omnivores yet appreciate algae in the tank to feed on.They also are a benefit to small polyp stony (SPS) branching corals such as Pocillopora and Acropora. The coral colony benefits from the fish waste and water movement they produce between their branches.

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

Geographic Distribution
Dascyllus carneus
Data provided by
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Pomacentridae
  • Genus: Dascyllus
  • Species: carneus
Striped Damsel pair, Dascyllus carneus

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Pair in captivity

These fish can do quite well in smaller tanks if they are the only ones. Like others in their genus, the Striped Damsel is very aggressive and becomes nastier as it grows. They will inhabit certain anemones as juveniles, however they move into the rock structure and find a cave or coral of their own as adults. They are great beginner fish and are awesome in tanks with fish that are aggressive as well. They can be kept in a 10 gallon tank, however that would mean they should be the only fish. In tanks that are at least 40 gallons (4 foot long), they can be housed with other more aggressive fish that can hold their own.

Striped Damsel - Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gal (114 L)
  • Size of fish - inches: 2.8 inches (7.01 cm)
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 82.0° F (22.2 to 27.8° C)
  • Range ph: 8.1-8.4
  • Diet Type: Omnivore

Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Cloudy Damsel Dascyllus carneus was described by Fischer in 1885. They are found in the Indian Ocean from East Africa to the Java Sea, around the Seribu Islands then north to Sri Lanka and southward to Mozambique. This species is not listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

They have several additional common names relating to both their place of origin and to their coloring. Being from the Indian Ocean, they are also called the Indian Dascyllus and Indian Humbug. Names derived from their coloring include Blue Spotted Dascyllus, Freckled Damselfish, Cloudy Damselfish, Cloudy Dascyllus, Bluetop Dascyllus, Striped Damsel, and Twobar Humbug.

About the Dascyllus Genus:

This species is a member of the very large Pomacentridae family of Damselfish and Anemonefish. It belongs to the subfamily Chrominae in the Dascyllus genus. There are currently 10 recognized species in this genus and they are only found in the Indo-Pacific.

The Dascyllus species are very deep bodied damselfish. They have a commensal relationship with corals and are often found hovering around isolated coral heads in groups. These groups range in size depending on the size of the coral. Once a Dascyllus has located a home at a coral colony it remains there.

They hide within the coral colony when frightened and use it as protection at night. In turn, the coral colony benefits from the fish waste and water movement they produce between their branches. In fact, studies have shown those corals with groups of Dascyllus grow faster and larger than those without. These damsels have the ability to visually tell the difference between a nearby herbivore and a predator by the placement of their eyes and the shape of their mouths.

The largest dominant fish in a group is always male, but when the dominant male is removed the largest female then transforms into the dominant male. With some species there may be several females in the process of becoming male even while subordinate. Many Dascyllus, including this species, are known to be hermaphrodites, starting life as female and turning male on demand. Yet it is also thought that there are some species that are gonochorists, where they are born as either male or female.

Similar to clownfish, this genus produces sounds to communicate. They make at least three distinct pulse sounds, and the larger the specimen the lower the frequency. Chirps and pops are audible with some species when the males are engaged in fighting, during courting, and when caring for and defending eggs at the nest site.

Of all the damselfish species only two (possibly three) from the Dascyllus genus are known to associate with anemones. These are the Domino Damsel Dascyllus trimaculatus, the Hawaiian Dascyllus Dascyllus albisella, and possibly the Strasburg's Dascyllus Dascyllus strasburgi. Unlike their Clownfish relatives, they are only found with anemones as juveniles, so are considered "facultative symbionts." Clownfish, on the other hand, live with anemones their entire lives so are known as "obligate symbionts."

Dascyllus are very attractive as juveniles, exhibiting dynamic color patterns. As juveniles they can be kept in a group, but as they age they become extremely territorial and mean in the confined space of the aquarium. They will be aggressive with their own kind and other damsels, as well as other fish that are not equally boisterous and pugnacious.

About Cloudy Damselfish:

The Cloudy Damsel inhabits offshore and coastal reefs, living in lagoon patch reefs, reef faces and fore reef slopes. They are found at depths of 16 to 114 feet (5 to 35 m) and associate with coral heads. There is not much yet known about their social relationships, but they are presumed to be similar to their almost identical looking cousin that occurs in the Pacific Ocean, the Reticulated Dascyllus Dascyllus reticulatus. They form small groups over Acropora and Pocillopora branching corals.

In the wild, as Dascyllus juveniles settle out of the larval stage, they head toward coral heads and are found in groups. There is one dominant male and possibly a subordinate male along with a dominant female, multiple subordinate females, and some juveniles. If the male leaves or dies, the smaller male becomes dominant. If both males are gone then the dominant female transforms to a male and assumes the lead.

These fish will not venture more than a few feet away from their corals. They will quickly hide within the coral colony when frightened and also use it as protection at night. The coral colony benefits from the fish waste and water movement they produce between their branches. They have the ability to tell a harmless fish from a predatory fish. This allows them more time feeding rather than hiding from everything that swims by. Similar to clownfish, this genus produces sounds to communicate.

Although they are omnivores, Cloudy Damsels will feed more heavily on benthic algae and weeds than on zooplankton and other planktonic invertebrates.

  • Scientific Name: Dascyllus carneus
  • Social Grouping: Groups - Dascyllus species are generally found in groups.
  • IUCN Red List: NE - Not Evaluated or not listed


The Cloudy Damsel is a deep bodied fish with a slightly forked tailfin. They are not built for speed quite as well as other damselfish, so they tend to hover close to their coral head. Some interactions, such as being engaged in fighting or courting, or when caring for their nest, may result in these fish producing distinct pulsing sounds.

They typically reach 2 1/3 inches (6 cm) in length, though specimens that are a little larger have been recorded reaching 2.76 inches (7 cm). Males are larger than females. Similar to others in its genus, in the wild their life span probably is 2 to 6 years, and they should live up to 15 years in captivity.

Adult coloration is similar for juveniles and adults. The overall color of the body is white, though the belly is slightly dusky in adults. Their head is dusky yellow to greenish yellow, followed by a single black or dark brown vertical stripe that is lighter at the top and lines up with black pelvic fins. The anal fin and dorsal fin are black, but the very back of the dorsal where it curves upward is dusky yellow to white. The pectoral fins are clearish to white. The head and belly may have small blue speckling over the area, and the body may appear to have a cross-hatch patterning. The base of the tail and the tailfin are white, though the tail can also have a light blue hue in some lighting.

Another Dascyllus that is very similar in appearance to the Cloudy Damsel is the Reticulated Dascyllus Dascyllus reticulatus. The Cloudy Damsel is smaller by 2 cm and it has a light tail base. The Reticulated, on the other hand, has the illusion of a second bar because the base of its tailfin is darker. Thus it is also sometimes called the Two Striped Damselfish.

  • Size of fish - inches: 2.8 inches (7.01 cm) - They typically grow to about 2 1/3 inches (6 cm) in length, but specimens have been recorded up to 2 3/4 inches (7 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 Cloudy Damselfish are very easy to care for and are generally among the easiest marine fish to keep. They are hardy and relatively small, making them suitable for a beginning saltwater hobbyist. Because they are slightly less pugnacious than other Dascyllus species they may make a better choice. Being gregarious as juveniles, they can be kept in a group, but they still become aggressive as they age and so tankmates should be selected carefully.

They need a few places to hide in rockwork, which will help them adapt as juveniles, and they need to be offered 2 or more small feedings a day. Even though they are quite durable they can still fall ill if exposed to poor water conditions for too long. Doing normal water changes, feeding them a variety of foods several times a day, and having proper tank mates are important when keeping this damselfish.

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

Foods and Feeding

The Cloudy Damselfish are omnivores, but they lean more toward a vegetable diet. In the wild they will feed more heavily on benthic algae and weeds than on zooplankton and other planktonic invertebrates. In the aquarium provide variety in their diet that includes vegetable based prepared foods, mysis, enriched brine shrimp, krill, finely chopped shrimp or fish flesh and other meaty foods, as well as flakes and preparations for omnivores.

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 enter into their digestive tract, which can cause issues.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes - Make sure the pellets are wetted down with tank water before adding to prevent air from getting trapped in their digestive tract.
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet - Not really necessary unless trying to condition a pair to spawn.
  • Vegetable Food: Half of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Half of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day - Feed at least 2 times a day.

Aquarium Care

These damselfish are hardy and easy to keep with a well maintained tank. Regular water changes done bi-weekly will also 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 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 Cloudy Damsel can be kept in either a saltwater aquarium or a mini reef. They typically grow to only about 2 1/3 inches but are very deep bodied and round, so they need plenty of room to get around. They become aggressive as they get older, so other tank mates should be chosen wisely.

They will swim in the upper level of the tank in schools as juveniles. Adults may inhabit any level if they do not have a branching coral to stay close to. To house a single specimen, provide a tank that is at least 30 gallons. A tank that is 55 gallons or more works best to keep a male and female pair. If you want to keep it with other damsels, having one damsel per 50 gallons is advised.

Provide rockwork with plenty of hiding places or even branching Acropora or Pocillopora corals, which will benefit from their presence. Having many places to hide will reduce aggression between them and other fish in the tank. Any substrate, water movement, and lighting is fine unless housed with corals, then these factors need to be considered for the needs of the coral. They do fine with water temperatures of 72˚F to 82˚F (22 - 28˚C) and a pH from 8.1 to 8.4. Similar to clownfish, optimal spawning production occurs 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 specimen, 55 gallons or more for a pair.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: Sometimes - A Nano will work if the Cloudy Damsel is the only fish in the tank.
  • Live Rock Requirement: Typical Plus Hiding Places - Provide a few places for them to hide within rockwork or coral.
  • Substrate Type: Any
  • 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 82.0° F (22.2 to 27.8° 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: All - If branching coral is present the fish will hover above it for safety, otherwise they may inhabit all areas of tank.

Social Behaviors

Like all damsels, the Cloudy Damsel can become territorial and aggressive as they get older, but are probably the least aggressive of their genus. They are fine as juveniles, either in a school or alone, but as they grow older their attitude grows bolder. Aggression can be dissipated in larger tanks. It is suggested to have one damsel per 50 gallons unless it is a male/female pair. Once paired, they are more aggressive than when alone. It may not be wise to keep them with other, more aggressive Dascyllus members.

Unlike their popular Dascyllus relatives, the Domino Damsel, Three Stripe Damsel, and Four Stripe Damselfish, these damselfish can be kept with peaceful fish that are larger than them. But this is only in a tank that is much larger, around 100 gallons. In smaller tanks they will go after peaceful fish. In a community, the one damsel per 50 gallons also applies. Add the damsels after the peaceful fish to give the more docile tankmates a chance to acclimate.

If attempting to keep with semi-aggressive fish like dwarf angelfish, the tank should be at least 100 gallons with plenty of hiding places for the other fish. They do well with triggerfish, large angelfish, dottybacks, puffers and others that can hold their own. Do not house with fish who can swallow them whole. It may be wise to avoid housing with any predatory fish, even if they are not big enough to eat the Cloudy Damselfish. This is because of these damsels ability to recognize a predator, which may keep them from coming out and eating.

They will work great in a reef. They really pose no threat to corals, and invertebrates are also generally safe. Their presence can actually benefit branching small polyp stony (SPS) corals. The constant movement of the damselfish keeps the branches free from debris and their excrement nourishes the coral. Be cautious with small ornamental shrimp, like sexy shrimp, since they may be devoured if the damsels are not well fed.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species - conspecifics: Sometimes - May be house as a male/female pair. More can be housed in larger tanks with 50 gallons per damsel.
    • Peaceful fish (gobies, dartfish, assessors, fairy wrasses): Monitor - They may be okay in tanks over 100 gallons.
    • Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Monitor - Only in larger aquariums of 100 gallons or more.
    • Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Monitor - Only in larger aquariums of 100 gallons or more.
    • Aggressive (dottybacks, 6-line & 8-line wrasse, damselfish): Safe
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (tangs, large angels, large wrasses): Safe
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (lionfish, groupers, soapfish): Threat - 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 - Cloudy Damselfish are too aggressive for these types fish.
    • Anemones: Safe
    • Mushroom Anemones - Corallimorphs: Safe
    • LPS corals: Safe
    • SPS corals: Safe - These damsels are beneficial to branching small polyp stony (SPS) corals.
    • 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: Monitor - Be cautious about adding small ornamental shrimp, like sexy shrimp, as they may become dinner.
    • Starfish: Safe
    • Feather Dusters, Bristle Worms, Flatworms: Safe
    • Clams, Scallops, Oysters: Safe
    • Copepods, Amphipods, Mini Brittle Stars: Safe

Sex: Sexual differences

Cloudy Damselfish males are larger and are the dominant fish in the group or pair. Some dominant females may have slightly undeveloped male organs to allow them to quickly turn into a male if the dominant male disappears.

Breeding / Reproduction

All damsel species are similar to clownfish and follow the general breeding pattern of clownfish. The male Dascyllus is the larger and dominant fish, with the females changing to males as they move up the hierarchy. 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.

Cloudy Damselfish have similar spawning habits as the Three Stripe Damsel. Spawning in the Three Stripe Damsel was also observed 2 to 4 days around the new and full moon in the reefs around Sesoko Island, Okinawa. Spawning was done early in the morning during the months of June to September. They may spawn more often in warmer waters. There is a pecking order in which the alpha female spawns with the alpha male first, then other females will spawn next in descending order. Males may even try to spawn with females in a group nearby if that other male is small.

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). In typical Dascyllus genus fashion, the male chooses a spawning site which can be a rock, dead coral branch, coral rubble, or flat rock.

To attract a female, the male will engage in signal jumping and will produce sounds. Signal jumping is the behavior of dipping up and down quickly. Once the female sees that the male is ready to spawn, she will join him. They will then swim side by side, with the male slightly behind the female. Then both turn and vibrate, simultaneously depositing their gametes on the nesting site.

After the eggs are laid and fertilized, the male produces more even more pulse sounds as he defends the nest. One clutch can have over 1,000 eggs. The male will oxygenate the eggs to keep them healthy and remove any undeveloped eggs . He will viciously guard his nest until they hatch. The eggs will hatch in 2.5 to 5 days, right after sunset, followed by a 20 to 28 day larval stage. Due to similarities, see 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

Dascyllus are very durable damsels, even when juveniles, and so are often used to cycle tanks. However there does seem to be an unexplained “sudden death” that damselfish can occasionally 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 Chromis 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 don'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 an expensive 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 Cloudy Damselfish are seasonal so not available all year. But they can be found on the internet and in stores when available and are inexpensive.


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

Nick T - 2008-12-04
Ha, thats funny! I have a porcupine puffer and cloudy damsel as well, and he doesn't stop terrorising all of them, including my maroon clown which he beat up pretty bad once! Sometimes I wish my puffer would take him out!

kristen - 2006-04-03
I HAD one of these fish along with a porcupine puffer, a key hole angle, domino damsel, a blue devil, and a 4 striped damsel, and this fish picked on all of them yes even the porcupine puffer!
But any way this fish is highly aggresive.
As i said i had one until one day my porcupine got tired of it and ate it. I know devastating, but in the back of my mined i was kind of glad. It could never terrorize again!