The French Angelfish is not only attractive, but has a friendly disposition with its keeper!

The French Angelfish Pomacanthus paru is a handsome fish that’s quite durable and has a great personality. Juveniles specimens are very colorful and much sought after by aquarists, but even as adults they are quite attractive. When young they are jet black with four bright yellow stripes, standing out like a bumble bee. As they grow they metamorphosis into an attractive adult with gold tipped scales covering the body. This Caribbean angelfish is also known as the French Angel, Paru, and Indian Fish.

These fish are an interesting attraction for hobbyists and divers alike. In their natural habitat they usually show no fear while divers are approaching, and make a very nice underwater photographic target. Once they are comfortable in the aquarium these cheeky fish develop an almost dog-like personality with their owners, making them a fun and attractive addition to the the saltwater tank.

This angelfish is a commonly available favorite and has some great qualities that make it so. It is a relatively inexpensive, and will readily accept food and adapt to its environment. Once established it will become personable and ‘tame’ with its keeper. These guys are like the Pac-man of their family. It was found that these angelfish would graze at a much higher rate than other Pomacanthus amgels, specifically three bites per minute. This indicates they would do well to be fed four or five small meals a day, which makes hand feeding these personable fish lots of fun since it’s okay to feed them that often.

One of the more hardy angelfish, this is a great choice for both beginners and advanced marine enthusiasts. it is tolerant of a wide range of aquarium conditions and quite disease resistant. The biggest hurdle is providing a large enough tank to care for its physical and psychological development. These fish need at least a 180 gallon (681 liters) aquarium, but ultimately 250 – 300 gallons (950 – 1135 l) is best. There needs to be plenty of live rock for it to forage from, and to hide in while young. Once established it is long lived. A benefit with a young specimen, juveniles at about 3 – 4 inches in length, is that it will perform cleaning services, removing parasites from the bodies and fins of other aquarium tank mates.

This is one of the more peaceful Pomacanthus species. It can be house with most fish except for sedentary species that tend to look like a reef-scape. These angels are constant grazers and cannot be blamed for nipping at a fish that looks like a rock to them. In very large tanks they can even be kept with other Pomacanthus angels if the tank is large enough. In the wild It has been observed that they love to be cleaned, spending up to 10% of their day hanging out with cleaner fish and cleaner shrimp. So a good tankmate to pick up when you buy your French Angelfish would be a Neon GobyElacatinus oceanops to provide some cleaning services.

Even though the French Angelfish would do well in a coral-rich tank with sessile invertebrates, it is not a 100% reef-safe fish. Certain invertebrates need to be kept out of the tank, but for the most part it is a semi-reef safe fish. It will eat the polyps of both hard and soft corals as well as invertebrates like live shrimps. But it can be kept with several genera of leathers and noxious soft corals, mushroom corals, and an anemone that’s well guarded by a resident clownfish.

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

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Pomacanthidae
  • Genus: Pomacanthus
  • Species: paru
French Angelfish – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 180 gal (681 L)
  • Size of fish – inches: 16.2 inches (41.10 cm)
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Temperature: 70.0 to 82.0° F (21.1 to 27.8&deg C)
  • Range ph: 8.1-8.4
  • Diet Type: Omnivore
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The French Angelfish Pomacanthus paru was described by Bloch in 1787. It was originally collected in Brazil and Jamaica as types and was first described as Chaetodon paru, but was later described as the now valid Pomacanthus paru. It is found in the Western and Central Atlantic Ocean; in the Florida area of the USA, from the Bahamas to Brazil, and the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. In the Bermudas the species was introduced. In the Eastern Atlantic it is found off of Ascension Island and St. Paul’s Rocks.

This species is on the IUCN Red List as Least Concern (LC). It has a stable population and is common across its range with the exception of few areas in northeastern Brazil, and there are no major threats identified. The common names French Angelfish and French Angel are the two that people are most familiar with, but this Caribbean angelfish is also known as Paru and Indian Fish.

This angelfish inhabits shallow reefs, lagoons, reef flats, coral heads, and invertebrate encrusted pier pilings. It is seen alone in its juvenile stage, while adults are usually observed in pairs, often near sea fans. The juvenile is very territorial and will attack other juveniles that come into its area. The adults are most common on reef slopes in pairs or small harems where the population is denser. They are usually seen at depths between 10 – 98 feet (3 – 30 meters) though they have been recorded as deep as 328 feet (100 meters), and juveniles can also be found in very shallow areas near beaches. Juveniles have a reputation as a cleaner fish that will take off parasites from other fishes in both their natural habitat and in aquariums. In the wild they will sharecleaning stations with cleaner gobies and juvenile hogfish, and are observed cleaning surgeonfishes, jacks, snappers, morays, grunts, and wrasses.

They feed mainly on sponges, algae, zoanthids, and gorgonians, yet amphipods, copepods and other benthic invertebrates. Phytoplankton, hydroids, and bryozoans are a much smaller part of their varied diet. It was discovered that they may change the foods they choose to eat according to their own physical size. This is not the case for all Pomacanthids. With this angel small individuals of 3.7” (9.5 cm) had different species of sponge in their stomach then a 5.1” (13 cm) fish, which had zoanthids and a sea squirts in its belly, and a 12” (32 cm) individual had only eaten red filamentous algae. This may indicate they display a pattern of eating according to size or availability of specific food during its growth, or it may change according to the area they inhabit.

  • Scientific Name: Pomacanthus paru
  • Social Grouping: Varies – Juveniles are found solitary and are very territorial. Adults form permanent pairs, except when the population is abundant, then small harems are formed. Male and female pairs will strongly defend their territory against other pairs when spawning.
  • IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern – A stable population.


The adult French Angelfish has a disc-shaped body that is entirely black, with a vertical short yellow dot on each scale giving it a metallic appearance. There is a yellow circle around the eye, the mouth is white, and the fins are black. The dorsal fin has a yellowish thread from the anterior spinous portion and there is another black thread from the first spine of the anal fin, both reaching back to the end of caudal fin. The caudal peduncle has yellow dots and there is a yellow marking at the base of pectoral fin.

Picture of a juvenile French Angelfish
French Angelfish (Juvenile)
Photo © Animal-World
Picture of a juvenile Gray Angelfish
Gray Angelfish (Juvenile)
Photo © Animal-World:
Courtesy Hiroyuki Tanaka

Juveniles are jet black with four vertical yellow bands on the side with the second and third ones curving toward the rear of body. The caudal fin has a circular band and the pelvic and anal fins have a bright blue dash. The yellow bands on the side will fade away with growth without a change in number.

Another very similar species found in the same areas is the Gray Angelfish Pomacanthus arcuatus. They are readily distinguishable in the adult color pattern, with the adult Gray Angelfish being plainer and without the metallic look that the French Angelfish has. However, the juvenile of these two fish is quite similar.

These two juveniles are distinguished primarily by the shape and color of their tail fin. As you can see in the two pictures, the French Angelfish has a dark rounded tail fin with a bold white margin, while the Gray Angelfish has a more translucent square shaped tail fin, and much less of a margin. Another difference in these two juveniles can be noted in their swimming habits. The juvenile French Angelfish will display a waving or fluttering movement, while the Gray juvenile will not.

  • Size of fish – inches: 16.2 inches (41.10 cm)
  • Lifespan: 16 years – Although there is not much data on lifespan, other Pomacanthids have lived at least 16 years or more in captivity

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The French Angelfish adult is a fairly active fish and a healthy specimen is interested in its environment. Juveniles will swim actively and freely, but tend to bolt into a hiding place when startled. Obtain individuals that are at least 3-8” in length for the best results. Almost all specimens will be successfully acclimated and become a very hardy fish in an appropriately sized tank. Like all angelfish, keeping pH up to at least 8.1 is necessary for long term care, as well as very good water quality.

Providing a very large tank of at least 180 gallons is needed for these angelfish to have room to swim and forage, but a tank of 250 – 300 gallons (950 – 1135 l) would be ideal. Psychological stress is said to be very common in large angelfish that do not have enough room to swim. A tank that is too small can also cause stunted growth with organs not having the room to form properly, resulting in a shorter life span.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy – Quite hardy as long as they have an appropriately sized tank with good water quality, appropriate foods, and kept with proper tank mates.
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner

Foods and Feeding

The French Angelfish are omnivores. in the wild they eat large amounts of sponges and algae, as well as some bryozoans, zoanthids, gorgonians, and tunicates. Due to their constant grazing nature in the wild, this specific angelfish should be fed four to five very small meals a day for best results. In a tank with abundant algae and sponge growth, three times a day would be acceptable.

Almost any food will be accepted but be sure to provide a varied diet that includes substantial vegetable foods as well as sponge foods, either commercially prepared mixtures containing sponge or by providing live sponge. Offer dried algae sheets in all colors and try various vegetables. Meaty foods, such as mysis and brine shrimp are relished but should be offered sparingly since too much meat can lead to deficiencies.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore – Feed preparations that have sponge and spirulina algae added, specifically for angelfish.
  • Flake Food: Occasionally
  • Tablet / Pellet: Occasionally
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet – Small live mysis or brine shrimp that are gut loaded can be offered as a treat once in a while. Also may be used to illicit a feeding response when first introduced.
  • Vegetable Food: Most of Diet – Should include sponge and algae type foods in equal amounts for this part of the diet.
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet – Too much meaty foods can result in vitamin deficiencies.
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day – The French Angelfish grazes much more then other Pomacanthus, and should be fed 4 to 5 very small meals a day.

Aquarium Care

A large tank is important for this fish. Frequent water changes are not necessary if water quality is high. Normal water changes at 15% biweekly or 30% monthly are fine, varied according to the number of fish and the tank size. Keep water parameters high and stable. Sudden massive water changes can cause trouble.

  • Water Changes: Bi-weekly – Do normal water changes of 15% biweekly or 30% monthly.

Aquarium Setup

These fish need to have an absolute minimum of 180 gallons (681 liters), but 250 – 300 gallons (950 – 1135 l) is ideal. They swim at all levels so be sure the tank has some open areas for them to swim as well as to turn around. Provide plenty of live rock for it to forage from and to hide in while young. Form the rock work into caves where they can hide even when adults, so they can feel secure. Smaller tanks can lead to fish leading shorter lives and will produce a more aggressive personality. A known male/female pair would need a minimum tank size of 250 – 300 gallons (950 – 1135 l). The same holds true when housing with other large angelfish.

Make sure the lighting is high enough to help algae to continue to grow on the rocks, perhaps positioning the tank where sunlight may hit it at least part of the day. These angelfish need sunshine or a light that mimics sunshine to help them process vitamins that they consume. Without it, blindness and other ailments from deficiencies can occur.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 180 gal (681 L) – A tank that is 250 to 300 gallons (950 – 1135 l) will be needed to keep a male/female pair or to keep it with other large angelfish
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Live Rock Requirement: Typical Plus Hiding Places – Hiding places are needed to help the angelfish feel secure.
  • Substrate Type: Any
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting – It is best kept under normal lighting, but can also be kept in sunlit conditions as well as a dimly lit tank. Lighting is needed for their health, and to provide algal crops on live rock.
  • Temperature: 70.0 to 82.0° F (21.1 to 27.8&deg C)
  • Breeding Temperature: 0.0° F
  • Specific gravity: 1.019-1.024 SG
  • Range ph: 8.1-8.4
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Any
  • Water Region: All – They swim at all levels so be sure the tank has some open areas for them to swim as well as to turn around.

Social Behaviors

The French Angel is one of the more peaceful Pomacanthus species and can be kept in a community aquarium. Adults can be kept with fish of varying temperaments and sizes from butterflyfish, swallowtail angels, fairy wrasses, gobies, blennies and other small peaceful fish. Do not house with sedentary fish like frogfish, seahorses or scorpionfish since the angelfish will likely pick at it if it resembles the reef rocks and substrate! Slower moving sharks and stingray, especially their eyes, may be picked by larger angelfish.

All other fish should all be added before this angelfish, with the exception of angelfish from the Holacanthus genus. If housing this angel with other large angelfish, add less aggressive angelfish from this genus first to help them get settled in before adding the more aggressive species. Because Pomacanthus are less aggressive then those from the Holacanthus genus, they should be added before them. Do not add more than two large angelfish at one time as your tank needs to have an opportunity to adjust to the heavier bio-load.

In the wild, juveniles are will defend an area that is 10’ in diameter, and often act as cleaner fish. This used to be thought of as an aggressive display, but it is now known they are not attacking others. In the aquarium however, trunkfish and other slow swimming fish may be continually pestered for a cleaning. A juvenile Pomacanthus will not bother other adult angelfish, so adding both at the same time will work out well. Do not house a Gray Angelfish juvenile with a French Angelfish juvenile as they will attack each other. When housing known male/female pairs or with other large angelfish, provide a tank that is at least 250 gallons or more.

This is not a 100% reef-safe fish, even though it will do well in a coral-rich tank with sessile invertebrates. It will eat the polyps of both hard and soft corals as well as inverts like live shrimps. Some have found Pomacanthus can be kept with noxious soft corals like those from the Sinularia, Cladiella, Lemnalia, and Litophyton genera as well as mushroom corals. An anemone that’s well guarded by a clownfish should also be left alone. Other than that, other corals will more than likely be on the menu. One day they may not bother them in the least, then all of a sudden they have an appetite for them. Keeping the angelfish well fed or perhaps obtaining a tank bred specimen may help deter this behavior, but you just never know.

Other invertebrates, clams, oysters and scallops will be pestered and picked at, resulting in them closing up and dying eventually from starvation. They may pick at appendages of starfish, feather dusters or anything else that looks interesting. They shouldn’t devastate your copepod or amphipod populations and will typically not bother with bristle worms.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Sometimes – A male/female pair needs an aquarium with at least 250 – 300 gallons (950 – 1135 l).
    • Peaceful fish (gobies, dartfish, assessors, fairy wrasses): Safe
    • Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Safe
    • Safe
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (tangs, large angels, large wrasses): Monitor – If kept with other large angelfish, tank needs to be 250 – 300 gallons (950 – 1135 l) to prevent aggression. Don’t add more than 2 different Pomacanthus at one time and add less aggressive species first.
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (lionfish, groupers, soapfish): Monitor – Slower moving sharks and stingrays may be picked on.
    • Threat – Angelfish are too aggressive in feeding to keep with slow feeding species.
    • Anemones: Monitor – Should be safe with a clownfish added to guard the anemone.
    • Mushroom Anemones – Corallimorphs: Safe
    • LPS corals: Threat
    • SPS corals: Threat
    • Gorgonians, Sea Fans: Threat
    • Leather Corals: Monitor
    • Soft Corals (xenias, tree corals): Threat – Many have success with those from the Sinularia, Cladiella, Lemnalia, and Litophyton genera, but keep an eye on them.
    • Star Polyps, Organ Pipe Coral: Threat
    • Zoanthids – Button Polyps, Sea Mats: Threat
    • Sponges, Tunicates: Threat
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Monitor – Will nip or attack small shrimp such as Sexy Shrimp or juveniles from the larger shrimp such as cleaner or peppermint shrimp. Wait until they are full grown to add to the tank and add before the angelfish.
    • Starfish: Threat – Will nip at appendages.
    • Feather Dusters, Bristle Worms, Flatworms: Monitor – Bristle worms are safe, but worms with feathery appendages will be eaten.
    • Clams, Scallops, Oysters: Threat
    • Copepods, Amphipods, Mini Brittle Stars: Safe – Doesn’t consume enough to decimate populations.

Sex: Sexual differences

There are no physical characteristics differentiating male from female, but adults are seen swimming in pairs in their natural environment.

Breeding / Reproduction

In the wild, the type of mating system employed by Pomacanthus (including the French Angelfish) is dependent on the density of the population at a particular location. In one area they may form permanent bonds, while in other areas they will form harems.

While spawning, their courtship display is less dramatic than other species. Male and female pairs congregate at the edge of the reef at sunset. Each pair will spawn and ascend into the water column, swimming together in an arc upward to about 7 – 10 feet (2 – 3 meters) above the sea floor, then will simultaneously release gametes at the apex. There are records of reproductive behavior with the French Angelfish in aquariums, as well as reports of successful rearing of young developed from hormone-induced spawning.

There are records of reproductive behavior with the French Angelfish in aquariums, as well as reports of successful rearing of young developed from hormone-induced spawning. For more information see, Marine Fish Breeding for a description of how angelfish reproduce in the wild.

  • Ease of Breeding: Moderate

Fish Diseases

French Angelfish, like other saltwater angelfish, 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. This angelfish may suffer from Saltwater Ich or White Spot Disease (Crypt) and other infectious diseases.

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.

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.

For more information on diseases that saltwater angelfish are susceptible to, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.


The French Angelfish is commonly available at retailers and is moderately priced. Finding an online website or local fish short that offers a guarantee of at least 10 days is your best bet.