Originally mistaken for a butterflyfish, the Vermiculated Angelfish’s beauty continues to attract aquarists!

The Vermiculated Angelfish Chaetodontoplus mesoleucus is an alluring beauty. It’s small in staturebut rich in color and form, often mistaken for a Butterflyfish because of its appearance. This is a modest sized angel, reaching only 7 inches (18 cm) in length, but very striking with its blue lips, yellow face, and a distinctive vertical bar running through the eye. The bi-colored body starts out in triangular white patch behind the head fading into a larger black area, accented with a yellow speckled patterning throughout. The name “vermiculated” refers to this angelfish’s patterning of wavy or winding lines. It is also known as the Vermiculate Angelfish, Singapore Angelfish, and the Red Sea Butterflyfish.

This angelfish is the most commonly available member of its genus. It was once thought to have two color phases, each with a different tail fin coloration. This fish was considered the “yellowtail†phase and the other color variation was called the “graytail†phase. Yet in 2009, it was determined by Randall & Rocha that the “graytail†variation had enough differences to warrant it being dubbed a different species all together. Thus Chaetodontoplus poliourus was born and this fish’s identity crisis was laid to rest. As of yet, no common name has been noted. It is also similar in appearance to the Indian Yellowtail AngelfishApolemichthys xanthurus. However this Yellowtail Angelfish is slightly smaller, reaching about 6 inches (15 cm) in length, and has a fewer (and larger) scales along the lateral line.

Once adjusted to captive life this fish makes agreat addition to the intermediate aquarists tank. An aquarist who will not compromise the needs of this moderately difficult fish can be successful in keeping it. Still there is only a 50/50 chance as far as survival. Some specimens adapt quickly to captivity, yet others refuse to eat and will slowly starve. It’s important that while acclimating it that foot traffic around the tank be kept to a minimum, or better yet, locate the tank in a quiet area of the house.

A well established 100 gallon aquarium, with plenty of rock work supporting a large crop of naturally growing algae is imperative. The rocks should be arranged in such a way as to provide multiple hiding places. As with any angelfish, monitoring the water parameters goes a long way in helpingit stay healthy. It will swim at all levels of the tank andis not picky as far as specific lighting or water movement are concerned.

These fish can hold their own against more pugnacious angelfish once fully acclimated,but it is not suggested to keep more than one these angels in a tank. It can be housed with other angelfish in a larger tank of 180 gallons or more as long as they don’t look the same. Though semi-aggressive, for the most part it will get along with other fish. Keeping it in a reef aquariumwill berisky, although if well fed it may be less likely to sample corals. Some have reported success with noxious soft coralsof the Cladiella, Lemnalia, Lobophytum, and Sinularia genera, and most mushrooms corals are fine. The only invertebrates that are safe are shrimp and bristle worms, while other invertebrates including sea stars may be damaged. In a very large reef system coral groups may recover from occasional picking.

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

Vermiculated Angelfish

Report Broken Video
A Vermiculated Angelfish in an ideal set up.

While not as clear as can be, this video shows an ideal tank set up for a Vermiculated Angelfish. There is plenty of different caulerpa for the fish to choose from as well as hide in. You can see how timid and easily frightened they can be in the beginning. This fish, once acclimated will be a great addition to your tank, tolerating most tank mates except other Vermiculated Angelfish or fish that have similar coloring. Corals, for the most part are all on the menu for tasting, while several aquarists report more noxious soft corals are nipped at less often than most. A well fed Vermiculated Angelfish is also less likely to dine on your corals.

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Pomacanthidae
  • Genus: Chaetodontoplus
  • Species: mesoleucus
Vermiculated Angelfish – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately Difficult
  • Minimum Tank Size: 100 gal (379 L)
  • Size of fish – inches: 7.0 inches (17.78 cm)
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Temperature: 76.0 to 82.0° F (24.4 to 27.8&deg C)
  • Range ph: 8.1-8.4
  • Diet Type: Omnivore
Enter a Saltwater Aquarium
  • My Aquarium – Enter your aquarium to see if this fish is compatible!
Popular Searches

Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Vermiculated Angelfish Chaetodontoplus mesoleucus was first described by Bloch in 1787. It is found in the Indo-West Pacific from southern Japan to Indonesia, Sri Lanka, east to Papua New Guinea, and the Mentawai Islands. This species is on the IUCN Red List as Least Concern (LC) as it has a wide distribution and presumably a large population. There are no major threats currently identified.

It is often mistaken for a Butterflyfish because of its appearance. The name “vermiculated” refers to this angelfish’s patterning and it is also called the Vermiculate Angelfish. The common names Singapore Angelfish and Red Sea Butterflyfish typically refer to its location.

There are currently about 13 species in the Chaetodontoplus genus and all of them live in the Eastern Indian and Western Pacific Oceans. Marine angelfish have gone through some changes in classification, the scientific name for this species was at one time Chaetodon mesoleucus. It also used to be thought that there were two color phases, a “yellowtail” and a “graytail”. However the gray tailed color variation is now described as Chaetodontoplus poliourus. It is a newly listed species, as of 2009 by Randall & Rocha, as there are enough differences to warrant the change but currently no common name is noted.

These angelfish inhabit barrier and fringing reefs with abundant populations of coral. They are found at continental shelf reefs along reef faces and fore-reef slopes, but tend to avoid oceanic islands. They are also found in low profile reef areas that have scattered coral heads or small patches of reef surrounded by sand. Depths they are foundat rangefrom 9.8 – 49 feet (3 – 15 m).

Juveniles are found solitary in areas of plentiful coral growth on deep rubble slopes. Adults are generally found in pairs, though occasionally a male will have two females in his territory. The females are usually non-aggressive while the males are very aggressive, guard their territory from roving “bachelor” males. They typically feed on benthic algae or weeds, sponges, tunicates, and ascidians (sea squirts) in the wild. They have also been seen picking on large polyped stony corals (LPS) from the Euphillia genus as well as nipping at the sponges that grow on the coral’s skeleton.

  • Scientific Name: Chaetodontoplus mesoleucus
  • Social Grouping: Varies – While juveniles are solitary while adults are found mostly pairs, though occasionally one male will be with two females.
  • IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern – A stable population.


The Vermiculated Angelfish is a deep bodied, elongated, flat fish with rounded continuous dorsal and anal fins extending along the length of the body, and a rounded caudal fin. It closely resembles a butterflyfish in body shape, but is easily identified as an angelfish by its strong opercular spine. They can grow to 7 inches (18 cm) in length and have been known to live 10 years in captivity with proper care.

This angelfish’s name is derived from the distinctive wavy or winding lined patterning on its body. The bi-colored body has a triangular white patch behind the head fading into a larger black area which may cover more or less of the body, depending on the specimen. The black area has an abundance of white to yellow speckling, which causes a gray cast. This speckling covers the entire back of the fish, including the dorsal and anal fins. The margins of dorsal and anal fins have a thin black outline, followed by bright blue edging. The tail fin is yellow, the pelvic fins are white. and pectoral fins are typically clearish white.

It has a blue mouth, yellow face, and a distinctive a wide black vertical band running through the eye. That band starts at the very top of the head down to the bottom of the chin, followed by a thin vertical yellow stripe. There is also a yellow edging on the top of the fish that runs from behind the black eye band to the middle of the fish. Juveniles are typically more brown in the back area with white speckling. Head slowly changes from a dull coloring to yellow.

The gray tailed species, once considered a color phase of this angelfish, is now recognized as a distinct species, Chaetodontoplus poliourus. It is similar in most respects but hasa grey tail fin. This species also has a small triangular shape on the middle ofits bottom lip.

  • Size of fish – inches: 7.0 inches (17.78 cm)
  • Lifespan: 10 years – This angelfish can have a lifespan of 10 years or more with good care.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

These angelfish are moderately difficult to care for and so are suggested for an aquarist with some experience. Some adapt readily to aquarium life, but just as many refuse to feed and die. Putting the aquarium in a quiet area of the home, or severely limited foot traffic while the Vermiculated Angelfish adjusts is very important. A mature tank that is at least 100 gallons, with plenty of rock work forming multiple hiding places is needed. Having an abundance of naturally growing algae, both filamentous algae and macro-algae such as Caulerpa, will help them adapt.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately Difficult
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate

Foods and Feeding

The Vermiculated Angelfish are omnivores, in the wild they eat primarily benthic algae and weeds, but will also feed on sponges, tunicates, and ascidians (sea squirts), and have been observed nipping at stony corals. Provide a varied diet in the aquarium. Offer frozen, flake, and freeze dried foods that also have Spirulina added. They like mysis shrimp, and shredded fresh or frozen shrimp. They will also eat filamentous algae and diatoms in the aquarium.

To help get this angelfish to feed when first introduced it is a good idea to have a large crop of algae, including caulerpa or similar macro-algae. It is not uncommon for this genus of angelfish to go about a week without eating anything you have to offer. Try a freshly opened clam or mussel or live feeder mysis or brine shrimp to initiate a feeding response. Keeping the tank area quiet so the angelfish comes out to feed is also important. Feed 3 times a day, and only less if the aquarium has plenty of algae growth.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore – Feed preparations that have spirulina algae added.
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: Occasionally
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet – Live foods like brine shrimp can be used to elicit initial feeding response.
  • Vegetable Food: Most of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day – Feed 3 times a day, and only less if the aquarium has a large supply of micro and macro algae.

Aquarium Care

The water quality of the aquarium must be well maintained. Regular water changes that maintain proper water parameters are key in helping to keep this angelfish healthy. Although not as picky as other angelfish, doing biweekly water changes will to keep the water quality up. Water changes of 10-15% every other week are suggested. They like temperatures between 76Ëš and 82ËšF (24Ëš – 28Ëš C). Keep the pH at 8.1 to 8.4 and normal parameters for salinity.

  • Water Changes: Bi-weekly – Water changes of 10-15% bi-weekly are suggested.

Aquarium Setup

Vermiculated Angelfish need a minimum tank size of 100 gallons (378 liter). The aquarium needs to be mature with plenty of algae growth on live rock. Providing at least one area of stronger light to produce algae is a good way of providing them a natural source of food. Filamentous algae as well as crops of caulerpa work well with this species. Form several caves and crevices so they feel safe when initially introduced. Their salinity requirement is in the normal range and no specific water movement is needed. They are best kept singly, but to keep with others from the same genus will require a tank over 250 to 300 gallons.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 100 gal (379 L)
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Live Rock Requirement: Typical Plus Hiding Places – Plenty of algae growing on live rock help them adapt to captivity.
  • Substrate Type: Any
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting – Stronger lighting in some areas helps to encourage natural algae growth for them to feed on.
  • Temperature: 76.0 to 82.0° F (24.4 to 27.8&deg C)
  • Specific gravity: 1.023-1.025 SG
  • Range ph: 8.1-8.4
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Any
  • Water Region: All – They will spend time in all parts of the aquarium.

Social Behaviors

This species is a semi-aggressive angelfish and can be kept in a community aquarium with the proper tankmates. Although shy initially, it will become bolder as it acclimates. Peaceful and semi-aggressive fish like cardinalfish, gobies, tilefish, damselfish, butterflyfish, fairy basslets, wrasses, etc. will be good tank mates.

Vermiculated Angelfish, Chaetodontoplus mesoleucus, Singapore Angelfish

The angelfish from the Chaetodontoplus genus are slightly less aggressive than some of the other angelfish, yet the Vermiculated Angelfish is probably one of the more aggressive of this genus. It will fight with its own species and so is not advisable to put it with others of its own kind nor the new species that was once thought to be a color morph of this fish, C. poliourus. Also do not house it with butterflyfish or other angelfish that have a similar appearance.

It can be house with other angelfish, but only in large systems with plenty of places to hide. Do not house juveniles angelfish together, since they will fight. Others from the same genus that look very similar, as well as juveniles from any genus that look similar will be attacked. It can can hold its own with some of the more pugnacious angelfish. Make sure that it is well established and eating though, before adding other semi-aggressive fish or other angelfish.

This angelfish is not 100% reef safe. Adults as well as juveniles, have similar dietary needs and will feed on some corals and sessile invertebrates. They will occasionally nip at all kinds of coral, but if they are well fed they may leave some alone. They may be safe in a very large reef tank with plentiful amounts of coral where the nipping they do here and there won’t destroy a colony. Some aquarists have had some success with less nipping of noxious soft corals such as from the Cladiella, Lemnalia, Lobophytum, and Sinularia genera, and mushroom coral are generally ignored. A few individuals may nip at an anemone’s disk if it is not guarded by a clownfish with a pugnacious personality. They don’t bother invertebrates such as shrimp, but seastars may have their appendages nipped. Invertebrates like star polyps, zoanthids, and feather duster worms may also be eaten. They definitely pose a threat to clams, scallops, and oysters, which is typical of this genus.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: No
    • Peaceful fish (gobies, dartfish, assessors, fairy wrasses): Safe
    • Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Safe
    • Safe
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (tangs, large angels, large wrasses): Safe – Safe as long as other angelfish or butterflyfish do not have the same shape or coloring
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (lionfish, groupers, soapfish): Monitor – Make sure they are not chasing or stressing your Vermiculated Angelfish.
    • Monitor – Seahorses and pipefish need their own habitat. Mandarins should be fine in large tanks as long as they have plenty of copepods to eat.
    • Anemones: Monitor – May be okay if there is a pugnacious clownfish guarding the anemone.
    • Mushroom Anemones – Corallimorphs: Monitor – Less likely to bother mushrooms, but no guarantee.
    • LPS corals: Threat
    • SPS corals: Monitor – In very large systems a well fed Vermiculated Angelfish house with large coral populations may not do as much damage as it would in a smaller system with few corals.
    • Gorgonians, Sea Fans: Monitor
    • Leather Corals: Monitor – May not bother noxious leather corals such as the Lobophytum genus as much.
    • Soft Corals (xenias, tree corals): Monitor – May not bother corals from the Lobophytum, Cladiella, Lemnalia, and Sinularia genera as much.
    • Star Polyps, Organ Pipe Coral: Threat
    • Zoanthids – Button Polyps, Sea Mats: Threat
    • Sponges, Tunicates: Threat
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Safe
    • Starfish: Monitor – May nip at seastar’s appendages.
    • Feather Dusters, Bristle Worms, Flatworms: Threat
    • Clams, Scallops, Oysters: Threat
    • Copepods, Amphipods, Mini Brittle Stars: Safe

Sex: Sexual differences

Sexual differences are unknown.

Breeding / Reproduction

Not yet bred in captivity, but in nature the Vermiculated Angelfish pair start courtship about an hour before sunset. The male will soar or swim above the female, stop, then hangs out with his fins extended and body tilted, awaiting her response. The female, when she is ready, will swim to an area of the male’s territory that he has designated as the spawning site. The couple will both soar up into the water column as the male nuzzles the female belly. Simultaneously, they will release their gametes once they reach about 6.6 feet (2 m) above the site. The male then chases the female back to the reef, away from his spawning site.

  • Ease of Breeding: Difficult

Fish Diseases

Although the Vermiculated Angelfish is fairly hardy, like other saltwater angelfish 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. Providing an angelfish with clean water, a proper decor with places to hide, and regular feeding is the best way to prevent illness. Calm angelfish are healthy fish. If not stressed, they will have a stronger immune system to prevent infections. To avoid a condition called nutritional blindness in angelfish, which can occur around 6 to 8 months after taken into captivity, feed green leafy food that have Vitamin A, as well as making sure there is plenty of natural occurring algae in the tank.

White Spot Disease Cryptocaryon irritans, also known as Marine Ich, Saltwater Ich, or Crypt is the most common disease that is generally associated with marine tangs and angelfish. Symptoms of Marine Ick are constant scratching, culminating with lots of white dots. These dots disappear for a few days, only to return with double the number. This results in the fish suffocating from these parasites blocking the gills from providing oxygen.

Another common disease is Marine Velvet or Velvet Disease Oodinium ocellatum, (syn: Amyloodinium ocellatum or Branchiophilus maris), which is a parasitic skin flagellate. Symptoms of Marine Velvet are a peppery coating giving a yellow to light brown “dust” on body, clamped fins, respiratory distress (breathing hard as seen as frequent or quick gill movements), cloudiness of eyes, glancing off decor or substrate, and possible weight loss.

A viral infection, Lymphocystis, looks like small cauliflower-shaped nodules on the fins and mouth. These nodules are not harmful and come and go. The only time action may be needed is if they were on the mouth area of the fish, preventing it from eating for a prolonged period of time. It’s best to do water changes to help the fish’s natural immune system kick in.

Monogenetic flukes are the most common parasitic infections angelfish are prone to contracting. Parasites on marine fish kept with live rock or in any type of reef environment can be extremely difficult to treat. Typical treatments like copper and formalin solutions, as well as quinine based drugs are harmful to other marine creatures. However drugs such as metronidazole provide an effective and safe treatment for several protozoan and anaerobic bacterial diseases. Metronidazole works by ceasing the growth of bacteria and protozoa. Metronidazole is an antibiotic for anaerobic bacteria with anti-protozoal properties. This drug is reef safe, and medications are either added to the water or mixed with the fish food. Some available products that contain metronidazole include Seachem Metronidazole, Seachem AquaZole, Thomas Laboratories’ Fish Zole and National Fish Pharmaceutical’s Metro-Pro.

For external parasites you can slowly increasing the temperature of your tank to at least 82° F (28° C). That will prevent the parasite from completing its life cycle which includes the attachment to fish. A further combination of the higher temperatures with medicated food will provide timely relief.The Seachem Metronidazole medications works well in combination with another Seachem product called Focus, which is a bonding agent. This treatment can be used in a reef aquarium since the medication is bound to the food, which even if the corals eat, will not hurt them. Mix Focus in a ratio of 5 to 1 with their Metronidazole (5 parts Focus to one part Metro), then mix this with 1 tablespoon of food. Feed the medicated food to the fish 3 times a day for at least a week or until symptoms are gone.

Fish problems can be broken into one of (or a combination of) these types: parasites, bacterial disease, fungal disease, or physical ailments caused from deficiencies in diet as well as wounds and injuries. For more information on diseases that saltwater angelfish are susceptible to, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.


  1. The Vermiculated Angelfish is occasionally available in stores and online and are moderate in price. These angelfish are seasonal, so they can be hard to find at certain times of the year.