Next to Longnose Hawkfish, Flame Hawkfish are one of the most sought after hawkfish due to their small size, better temperament and beautiful red coloring.  

The Flame Hawkfish body is a thick tear drop shape.  Their color is a bright red with or without a black band running along the back and into part of the dorsal fin, which varies in length and depth on each fish. All specimens have a dark “C” shape band around each eye, and some specimen’s coloring on their black will join up with the dark around their eyes.  Flame Hawkfish have tufts or cirri at the end of each of the dorsal fin’s rays and on the nostril openings.  All other fins are the same color as the body and the mouth can be slightly lighter.  Flame Hawkfish grow to 3.5” (9 cm) and males are slightly larger.  These fish are great for beginners!

Hawkfish are born female and change to male as needed, opposite to clownfish, so males are slightly larger.  To quote Ben Young Landis, who put the social dynamics of Flame Hawkfish into human perspective:  “…… a resident male has an incentive to chase away large females because a large female (Flame Hawkfish) could be ready to change into a male, one that could subsequently steal his woman.   So, it was probably for the better that my hawkfish date didn’t get too serious. Even if we had hit it off, I might have come home one day to find all my possessions thrown out of my house, with my hawkfish bride-turned-groom possibly on the prowl and sleeping around with my neighbors. My life ruined because of some pint-sized, tomato-colored sleazeball.”  Couldn’t say it better than that!  Thanks, Ben!!  Flame Hawkfish are usually found in pairs but can have a small harem of two to four females.  

The Flame Hawkfish is easy to care for and survive parasitic outbreaks better than many other fish!  Water quality is important, with stable salinity levels of at least 1.023 and a pH of 8.1 to 8.4 to help mimic their natural environment.  Flame Hawkfish have been known to jump out of an aquarium, especially if there is an aggressive fish in the tank that is harassing them.  When attempting to keep a male and female pair, add one very large specimen and one to four very small specimens in a larger tank of at least 55 gallons.  Be willing to remove any of the fish if they suddenly start to fight!    

Aggressive fish and other larger and pugnacious hawkfish will be too mean for the Flame Hawkfish, although they get along with Longnose Hawkfish in a tank that is at least 100 gallons.  Peaceful and semi-aggressive fish are okay, as long as in a tank under 55 gallons, you do not try to add substrate dwellers after the Flame Hawkfish are established.  Over 55 gallons, this is not a problem most of the time.  Do not house with fish that can swallow them whole.  Flame Hawkfish will attack decorative shrimp like Peppermint Shrimp (Lysmata spp), Cleaner Shrimp and Dancing Shrimp (Rhynchocinetes sp), yet some have had success if they added the shrimp first, let it grow and added a juvenile Flame Hawkfish, but no guarantees.  In a reef they benefit large SPS, since taking refuge in their branches causes needed water movement.  They have been seen hiding under the Magnificent Anemones tentacles in captivity, for refuge.  The down side of the Flame Hawkfish in a reef, is that any shelled animal (hermits, snails, limpets) that finds itself upside down, and in the line of sight of a Flame Hawkfish, will end up yanked out of it’s shell and eaten!  Christmas Tree Worms are on the menu as well.  

The tank should be a minimum of 20 gallons with plenty of places for them to perch!  A minimum tank size of 55 gallons is wise if you want substrate dwelling tank mates, since Flames can be territorial in smaller tanks.  Provide areas with flat rocks that are at various levels in the tank.  Feeding them a variety of meaty foods with help them keep their red coloring.  Include raw minced salmon flesh, since it has the red pigment they need.  Keep a lid over the tank in case your Flame Hawkfish feels the need to carpet surf!!  Flame Hawkfish inhabit all areas of the tank, but prefer the upper levels. 

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

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Cirrhitidae
  • Genus: Neocirrhites
  • Species: armatus
Flame Hawkfish – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gal (76 L)
  • Size of fish – inches: 3.5 inches (8.89 cm)
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 81.0° F (22.2 to 27.2&deg C)
  • Range ph: 8.1-8.4
  • Diet Type: Carnivore
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Flame Hawkfish, Neocirrhites armatus, was first described by Castelnau in 1873.  Commons names are Brilliant Red Hawkfish, Red Hawkfish, Scarlet Hawkfish and Flame Hawkfish all of which describe their bright red coloring.  The term Hawkfish comes from the hawk-like nature of the fish perching up high and periodically circling down to the substrate and returning, as well as taking the advantage of the height to spot any prey that comes into their sight.  Hawkfish have been referred to as aquatic raptors just for this reason!  Makes you think of Jurassic Park and that foolish guy who thought he could hunt the Raptors! That did not end well!    

Currently, there are about 36 species of Hawkfish that have been discovered, with around 15 species commonly found in aquarium stores in the USA.  

Flame Hawkfish are found in the Pacific Ocean from the Ryukyu Islands to the Line and Mangareva Islands then south to the Great Barrier Reef and surrounding Austral Islands such as Caroline, Mariana and Wake Islands in Micronesia.  They are found on upper reef slopes and channels in areas that have strong surges.  Like Longnose Hawkfish they have certain preferences when it comes to corals that they like to inhabit.  Flame Hawkfish like Stylophora mordax, Pocillopora elegans, Pocillopora eydouxi and Pocillopora verrucosa and will hide deep within the branches when frightened.   Their feces give the corals needed nitrogen and their movements help keep debris from settling in the branches.  Some individual Flame Hawkfish have been known to stay in and around the same coral for over 2 years in the wild!  They are found at depths from 3 to 33 feet (1 to 10 m) feeding on benthic crustaceans and other creatures living close to the substrate. 

Juveniles can be found in small groups and are tolerated by adult Flame Hawkfish.   Adult females will tolerate smaller adult females, but not larger.  Adults are found most often in pairs, but at times in harems with one male and 2 to 4 females, whose numbers are in direct relation to the amount and size of the corals in the area.  Males will chase larger females away since the large females have a tendency to turn to males and fight them for their territory! 

They have not been evaluated for the IUCN Red List for Endangered Species.

Species Variations and Similar Species:

The Flame Hawkfish does have a similar shape as several other hawkfish, however the solid bright red coloring and black markings are only distinctive to them.  Most fish wear much less eyeliner!  Plus Flame Hawkfish are the mellowest.

  • Scientific Name: Neocirrhites armatus
  • Social Grouping: Varies – Single specimens are best, male and female with specific guidelines
  • IUCN Red List: NE – Not Evaluated or not listed


The Flame Hawkfish has a teardrop shaped body with the head area being on the larger end.  They have a bright red body, with thick black eyeliner in the shape of the letter “C,” with the opening of the “C” facing the mouth area.  While some specimens lack the black on their back, most specimens have, from a small black line up to a dark thick black band along the top of their body and running up to 1/2 way into the dorsal fin.  A few have a considerable amount of black, with the black coloring around their eyes joining up with the black band along the top of their bodies. So you can their “Backs in Black”….. nanana, nanana, nanana, na, na, na, na, na….. okay, sorry for the AC/DC reference, couldn’t be helped.  Back to the Flame Hawkish; as you imagine it playing air guitar…. The rest of their fins are the same red as their body with their lips being slightly lighter.  Males are larger than females as these fish are all born female.  Flame Hawkfish males grow to 3.5” (9 cm) and are said to live from 5 to 10 years. 

  • Size of fish – inches: 3.5 inches (8.89 cm) – 3.5” (9 cm)
  • Lifespan: 5 years – 5-10 years

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The Flame Hawkfish are easy to care for and perfect for a beginner as long as the water is good quality.  Offer your hawkfish many different types of foods to help keep their coloring, like salmon and prepared foods like flake and pellets specifically made to help fish retain color or the Flame Hawkfish may fade.  Give them plenty of crevices and areas to hide and hunt in to make them feel secure, remembering they are more cryptic in the beginning than some hawkfish.  Throwing in a few small hermit crabs, snails, and feeder shrimp will be relished by your Flame Hawkfish!  Keeping a lid on the tank will also help prevent them from jumping out if they are startled.  Larger hawkfish will attack this more peaceful hawkfish.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner

Foods and Feeding

The Flame Hawkfish is a carnivore, and their color can fade in captivity if it is not fed a wide variety of meaty foods.  The color in raw salmon flesh is one source to provide natural red pigment, and it should be finely chopped according to their size.  You can also feed them frozen/thawed mysis shrimp, fortified brine shrimp, and finely chopped fish, shrimp or crab meat and occasionally flake or pellets that have color enhancers.  A diet of all freeze dried meaty foods may eventually be rejected; as some have had the experience with their hawkfish.  Feed several times a day as juveniles and twice a day as adults.  It may be wise not to offer live foods such as mollies and guppies, if they have smaller tank mates  since this can arose the predator in them!   

  • Diet Type: Carnivore
  • Flake Food: Occasionally – Only with color enhancing properties
  • Tablet / Pellet: Occasionally – Only with color enhancing properties
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Unkown – Not necessary and may cause them to go after desirable live tank mates.
  • Meaty Food: All of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day – Can feed twice daily as adults.

Aquarium Care

Reef tanks

  • Nano/Small tanks up to 40 gallons, perform 5% water changes 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.

Fish only 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. Regular water changes done  bi-weekly will help replace the trace elements that the fish and corals use up. Learn more about reef keeping see: Mini Reef Aquarium Basics.

  • Water Changes: Bi-weekly

Aquarium Setup

Minimum tank size is 20 gallons.  If you want tank mates that are substrate dwellers, a tank that is at least 55 gallons will keep the Flame Hawkfish from being aggressive.  After all, if too many people are crammed in a small room, tempers would flare there too!  If attempting to find a male and female pair, introduce into a 45 gallon tank, a larger and much smaller Flame Hawkfish.  Provide many places for each of them to hide.   In tanks that are at least 6 feet long or more, you can try a group of 4 or 5 juveniles, which will give you better results for a harem, but be prepared to remove any that are being attacked.  Avoid housing with other hawkfish unless they are similar or smaller size, and just as peaceful, in tanks over 100 gallons.  They do not require any special substrate, but live rock with plenty of crevices to hide and hunt in will help them feel secure since they hide more than other hawkfish.  Keep the temperature steady, anywhere between 72˚ and 81˚F with a steady pH of 8.1 to 8.4 and good quality water for best health.  Any lighting is acceptable and they are found in areas with swift water movement in the wild, so provide this in one area of the tank.  Flame Hawkfish swim in all levels of the tank, however, they will prefer upper levels in which to perch and pounce.  They have been known to jump out of tanks so provide a lid of some sort, especially if there is a fish harassing them.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gal (76 L) – 20 gallons for one, 45 for a pair, 55 gallons if you wish to have tank mates to disperse aggression.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: Yes – As the only fish
  • Live Rock Requirement: Typical Plus Hiding Places
  • Substrate Type: Any
  • Lighting Needs: Any
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 81.0° F (22.2 to 27.2&deg C) – 72˚ F (22˚ C) 81˚ F (27˚ C)
  • Breeding Temperature: – unknown
  • Specific gravity: 1.023-1.025 SG
  • Range ph: 8.1-8.4
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Any – Provide one are of swift water movement to mimic their habitat.
  • Water Region: All – Found at all levels, although they prefer the top levels.

Social Behaviors

The Flame Hawkfish is one of the most peaceful of the hawkfish clan next to the Longnose Hawkfish.  They will get along as a male and female pair, which can be attempted by adding a large adult with one to 4 juveniles in a larger tank.  Remove the others if they start getting picked on.  How do you know they are going to fight?  It starts with them circling in a head to tail spin and will raise and lower their dorsal fins and next step is locking jaws and injury will soon take place!  This behavior is different from spawning or courtship which is described below!  Male and female pairs will do fine in 45 gallons or more, so if the smaller one decides to become male, and starts getting attacked by the other Flame Hawkfish, this will allow them to hide until you rescue it! This is part of the reason housing one Flame Hawkfish per tank is suggested.   Larger and more aggressive hawkfish will attack the Flame Hawkfish.  In a larger tank, at least 100 gallons, one other peaceful hawkfish such as the Longnose Hawkfish may be housed with the Flame Hawkfish, but watch out for unexpected aggression. 

Flame Hawkfish will get along with most other fish.  They exception is aggressive fish and adding fish that are bottom dwellers, after the hawkfish is established, though this can be remedied by having a tank that is 55 gallons or more.  Do not house with aggressive fish like large dottybacks and pugnacious fish like Maroon Clownfish or fish large enough to swallow them whole!  In short, any peaceful to semi-aggressive fish are fine, although they at times it is also a good rule of thumb to allow your less aggressive fish to become established before adding the Flame Hawkfish. The best tank mates are dwarf angels, less aggressive smaller dottybacks, less aggressive tangs, anthias, less aggressive damsels, larger blennies and gobies (added before the Flame Hawkfish and in tanks that are at least 55 gallon), butterflyfish, wrasses like fairy wrasses, and non-aggressive adult Clownfish.   Note the term less aggressive and you’ve got the idea!

In a reef setting, they do not bother corals, though once in a while a Flame Hawkfish may perch on a coral, irritating it, and preventing it from opening.  This is not usually a problem, however, since Hawkfish tend to move from spot to spot.  They will retreat under the tentacles of a Magnificent Anemone (Heteractis Magnifica) and will help your Pocillopora corals by hiding within the branches, by fanning debris away with their movements, and providing nitrogen with their feces.  Even replica Pocillopora are appreciated!  Flame Hawkfish are to Pocillopora as clownfish are to anemones!

Flame Hawkfish, are known to attack and eat ornamental shrimp, including the Peppermint Shrimp, Cleaner Shrimp and smaller shrimp like sexy shrimp.  Some aquarists who have had a full grown Cleaner Shrimp and a juvenile Flame Hawkfish have had no issues, but this may depend on the individual fish and how well fed it is!  Flame Hawkfish have been known to pull turbo snails, hermit crabs, and limpets out of their shells for lunch if these creatures happen to find themselves upside down!  Going a step further, once the Flame Hawkfish figures out it can knock snails off the glass, resulting in an upturned position, all bets are off for peaceful cohabitation!  Christmas Tree Worms are also on the menu if the Hawkfish is hungry enough.  Any reef worm is at risk if they are small and can fit into the Flame Hawkfish’s mouth.  Even with these risks, most aquarist are willing to put one in their reef due to their amazing and amusing personalities.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Sometimes – Male and female pairs will work, however, if the female decides to change to male, they will start fighting.
    • Peaceful fish (gobies, dartfish, assessors, fairy wrasses): Safe – Exception: Add bottom dwellers first or after the Flame Hawkfish if the tank is at least 55 gallons
    • Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Safe – Exception: Avoid Maroon Clownfish unless tank is hundreds of gallons.
    • Monitor – Larger and more aggressive dottybacks and damsels should be watched for aggression.
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (tangs, large angels, large wrasses): Safe
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (lionfish, groupers, soapfish): Threat – Do not house with fish that can swallow them whole.
    • Monitor – Only mandarins would be safe with Flame Hawkfish if there is plenty of rock work providing natural foods for the mandarins. Hawkfish will outcompete seahorses and pipefish for food.
    • Anemones: Safe
    • Mushroom Anemones – Corallimorphs: Safe
    • LPS corals: Safe
    • SPS corals: Safe – Their movements and feces are beneficial to SPS branching 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: Threat
    • Starfish: Safe
    • Feather Dusters, Bristle Worms, Flatworms: Threat – Will consume small worms such as Christmas Tree Worms.
    • Clams, Scallops, Oysters: Safe
    • Copepods, Amphipods, Mini Brittle Stars: Safe

Sex: Sexual differences

Males tend to be larger than females.

Breeding / Reproduction

Males are larger than females, and females can change as needed into males.  This ability is called being protogynous (producing female reproductive cells before male ones) hermaphrodites (possessing both male and female reproductive organs sometime during their life span).  Clownfish are protandrous (producing male reproductive cells before female ones) hermaphrodites. So, Flame Hawkfish are born female and turn male as needed.  Males are thus slightly larger than females and usually pair up, however, they can be found in small harems of one male to two to four females.  Males will chase off larger females, since they have a larger chance of changing sex and stealing their female(s).  In the wild, Flame Hawkfish start their spawning ritual just before the sun sets and ends once the sun has completely set.  Flame Hawkfish spawn year round and starts just before and just after the sun sets and continues until just after dusk.  The male Flame Hawkfish will swim around the female in a circular pattern, then will sit close to her and she will then lead the male to the courtship site. The male will stimulate the female to release eggs by nudging her with his snout, sitting on her and then quivering his body.  Afterwards, they will both raise up their heads and flex their pectoral fins, then within one to two seconds, they both quickly swim upward for a short distance, releasing their gametes at the top of their ascent.  Both male and female return to their coral home after the event. The male, if he has more than one female, will then go to the next female in the group and start all over.  The newly fertilized eggs start their journey as they develop, much like other fish in the ocean. 

So far breeding in captivity has been unsuccessful.

  • Ease of Breeding: Difficult – Not possible at this time.

Fish Diseases

Flame Hawkfish are hardy and disease resistant.  Some have even survived tank crashes and crypt outbreaks.  They would be susceptible, however, to typical illnesses if water quality is poor for extended periods and salinity and/or temperature is unstable and highly fluctuating.  Hawkfish may not do well with fresh water dips and/or formaldehyde treatments.  Such a treatment did kill one Longnose Hawkfish I had, while the clownfish survived, so be cautious with your Flame Hawkfish.  


Flame Hawkish are mid-priced and relatively easy to find.


Animal-World References: Marine and Reef

Complete Encyclopedia of the SALTWATER AQUARIUM
By Nick Dakin
Foreword by Julian Sprung
Published by Firefly Books Ltd.
Copyright © 2003 Interpet Ltd.

By Scott W. Michael
T.F.H. Publications
Copyright © 2005 by T.F.H. Publications, Inc.

By Scott W. Michael
Published by T.F.H. Publications
Co-Published by Microcosm Ltd.
Copyright © 2004 by T.F.H. Publications, Inc.
Photographs copyright © Joshua Highter

A blog on fish biodiversity
By Ben Young Landis

Flame Hawkfish Neocirrhites armatus (Image Credit: Brian Gratwicke, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.0 Generic)