The Griffis Angelfish is unusual and quite rare, and so this exotic aquariumfish commands a high price!

The Griffis Angelfish Apolemichthys griffisi is one of the more petite of the large angelfish, but it stands out with its bold markings. It’s mostly a white and black fishbut onlygrows to a length of about 9 3/4 ” (25 cm). On the upper body it has three bold stripes of black, white, and an oblique black, and the lower body is greyishwith a tan to yellowish cast, decoratedwith a netted patterning of white pearly spots. It is similar in coloration to the Bandit Angelfish Apolemichthys arcuatus from the Hawaiian Islands, but these two fish are readily distinguishable from each other. The Bandit Angel has only one bold black stripe along its upper body and above thisstripe is its tanish tint with the pearly netted pattern (the reverse of the Griffis).

This angelfish is a more recently discovered species. It was first photographed in the 1970’s by the Australian photojournalist Valerie Taylor at the Gilbert Islands (formerly the Kingsmill Islands) located in the Pacific Ocean, halfway between the Hawaiian Islands and Papua New Guinea. It was later collected southeast of there, from Canton Island, by Carlson and Taylor in 1978, who then described it in 1981.

This angel was first placed inthe Holacanthus genus, but was later identified as member of the Apolemichthys genus. The Apolemichthys genus currently contains only 9 species, but these are some of the hardiest of the angelfishes.Although this species is not the hardiest of this group, it isvery durable. It’s a bit more plain than many of the angelfishes, but its strong contrasting pattern makes it an attractive aquarium pet. Unfortunately it is still a rare fish and it commands quite a high price.

For an experienced aquarists that enjoys the unusual, this angelfish is a great addition to a saltwater aquarium. The best tank for it is a mature reef type aquarium that is at least 100 gallons (378 liters). It will need rockwork with lots of caves for retreat as well as some open swimming space. Most juveniles as well as larger adults will acclimate readily, though occasionally an individual may refuse to eat. Having live rock and a good algae growth in the tank can help it to acclimate initially. Also providing sponges until it learns to eat the new foods that you are providing will help. Once established it will accept a variety of aquarium foods.

This angelfish is semi-aggressive, but can be kept in a community aquarium with tank mates that are peaceful. The best tank mates are those that are not overly excitable feeders or overly aggressive. It can be mixed with other angelfish if the aquarium is large enough, but this more peaceful angel should be introduced to the tank before the others. It can fight with other Apolemichthys that are added after it is established, so add conspecifics at the same time, and they should be close to the same size.

Many reef-keepers hope to keep it in a mini reef. A reef environment is actually ideal for it, but it may damage some of the stony and soft coral species. It could be one of the safer choices for a reef aquarium as it will tend not to pick on sessile invertebrates. But as with many of the large angelfish, an older adult can start to reek havoc on the reef, so be cautious. In a reef setting they will eventually eat most of the sponge and may consume any other corals. So although it would be a great addition to any type of aquarium, it can definitely be kept in a fish only environment.

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

Griffis Angel

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Griffis Angelfish From Christmas Island 4-5 inches (Apolemichthys griffisi) in quarantine tank.

This video shows the Griffis Angelfish alert and looking for food in the quarantine tank. They need a tank that is at least 100 gallons since they reach almost 10″ as adults and need all that live rock for natural foods. A great angelfish that adapts to captivity even if is captured as an adult!

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Pomacanthidae
  • Genus: Apolemichthys
  • Species: griffisi
Griffis’ Angelfish – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 100 gal (379 L)
  • Size of fish – inches: 9.8 inches (24.99 cm)
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Temperature: 74.0 to 82.0° F (23.3 to 27.8&deg C)
  • Range ph: 8.0-8.4
  • Diet Type: Omnivore
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Griffis’ Angelfish Apolemichthys griffisi was first described by Carlson and Taylor in 1981 as a member of the Holacanthus genus, but later moved to the Apolemichthys genus, which currently has only 9 described species. It was first photographed at the Gilbert Islands in the 1970’s by the Australian photojournalist Valerie Taylor. Soon after, in 1978, it was collected at Canton Island. This species is named after the late conservationist Nixon Griffis. Other common names it is known by include Griffis’ Angelfish and Griffis Angel Fish

They are found in the Pacific Ocean ranging from Southeast Asia eastwards to the Line Islands of the Central Pacific. It is known from Northeast Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, as well as Kiribati, which consists of a group of 32 coral atolls running along the equator between Australia and South America, including the Islands of Caroline, Gilbert, Canton, Phoenix, and the Line Islands. This species is on the IUCN Red List as Least Concern (LC) as it has a large population with a wide distribution, and there are no major threats currently identified.

They inhabit steep reef slopes, rocky ledges, and reef drop-offs at depths between 33 – 361 feet (10 – 110 m). They are seen as solitary individuals, in pairs, or in small groups. It is known that they feed on sponges and tunicates, and may also possibly feed on benthic algae, weeds, and zoobenthos as other members of their genus do.

  • Scientific Name: Apolemichthys griffisi
  • Social Grouping: Varies – They are found alone, in pairs, and in small groups.
  • IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern – They have a stable population in the wild.


Most of the Apolemichthys members are colorful but this species is rather simply colored. The adult is grayish white with an oblique black band beginning at the head and ending on the lower side of caudal peduncle, and has another oblique white band riding on the black band. The nape has an eye-size black spot, and sometimes there are numerous fine black dots on head. There is another smaller black spot above the pectoral-fin base. The dorsal fin is mostly black with a whitish area on the anterior part, the anal fin is grayish white, and the pelvic fins are whitish. The caudal fin is whitish with the upper tip of the fin prolonged.

Juveniles are similar to adults but somewhat more contrasted in color, and have a more prominent eye band. YOu can see the differences of coloration in the fins of the juvenile pictured here.

Griffis' Angelfish (Juvenile), Apolemichthys griffisi
Griffis Angelfish, Juvenile (3 cm) Photo © Animal-World:
Courtesy Hiroyuki Tanaka

Adults will reach 9.84 inches (25 cm) in length, but most available specimens are less than 6 1/2 inches (17 cm). Its lifespan is unknown at this time, but the average lifespan of angelfish is 10 to 15 years.

  • Size of fish – inches: 9.8 inches (24.99 cm)
  • Lifespan: 10 years – The average lifespan of angelfish is 10 to 15 years.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The Griffis Angelfish is moderate in care once acclimated, and makes a great choice for an experienced aquarist looking for something unique in his tank. It needs a good sized aquarium that offers rockwork with some crevices for retreat and also lots of open space to swim freely.

Generally no special care is needed to feed this fish as it will take a variety of foods. Juveniles as well as adults will readily adjust to aquarium life, but occasionally an individual will refuse food, and ultimately starve to death. Once it is successfully acclimated it will become a very hardy fish and it will go up to the surface to take foods.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate – Intermediate to advanced.

Foods and Feeding

The Griffis’ Angelfish is an omnivore. In the wild they primarily eat sponges and tunicates, so high quality sponge based foods are necessary. There is little data on their entire diet, presumable the young also feed on plant matter as do the other members of its genus. It is best to feed small amounts several times per day.

It’s important that you feed angelfish a variety of good foods; all kinds of live, frozen, and prepared formula foods. Feed them prepared frozen foods with spirulina, foods with sponge material and algae sheets as well. Chopped fish and shrimp, along with enriched mysis and brine shrimp should also should be provided. A good formula that can be made at home consists of mussels, shrimp, squid, and spinach. There are also several good commercial foods available including Formula II and Angel Formula.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore – Needs sponge and tunicates as the main foods along with algae and a little meaty foods.
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet – You can offer live mysis and algae based foods to initiate a feeding response in new arrivals.
  • Vegetable Food: Half of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet – Offer highly enriched meaty foods as a treat, but not regularly.
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day

Aquarium Care

Excellent water parameters are key in helping to keep this angelfish healthy. In the minimum sized tank of 100 gallons (378 liters), perform 10-15% water changes bi-Weekly, more if overstocked. A water change of 20% should be performed with large tanks of 100 gallons or more, unless the tank is sparsely populated and water parameters are showing very good quality.

As with all angelfish, keeping the pH at 8.0 to 8.4 is ideal. The pH should never drop below 8.0. Controlling pH levels is best resolved by water changes rather than chemicals. Using testing equipment is suggested to tell you when to do a water change.

  • Water Changes: Bi-weekly – Suggested water changes of 10-15% bi-weekly for a 100 gallon tank (378 liters) and 20% for larger aquariums.

Aquarium Setup

This fish is not a quick swimmer but needs lots of open space for free swimming, They can do well in a typical reef setting that has live rock forming nooks and crannies for places to retreat, and some open areas to swim. A tank that is at least 100 gallons (378 liters) is needed. A well balanced tank that has algae growing on the rocks and aged at least 6 months is best. Form several hiding places within the rock work, to help your angelfish feel secure.

When first acquiring your angelfish, stocking the tank with sponges and tunicates, which they eat in the wild, can help them to acclimate. But they are generally ready feeders, and will quickly begin to accept aquarium foods.They should also be the only angelfish in the tank unless it is over 150 gallons. If including other large angelfish in the tank, the Griffis’ Angelfish should be one of the first of the larger angelfish added to the tank. If keeping more than one, introduce same sized specimens to the tank at the same time.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 100 gal (379 L) – A tank of 150 gallons or more can house more than one.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Live Rock Requirement: Typical Plus Hiding Places
  • Substrate Type: Any
  • Lighting Needs: Any
  • Temperature: 74.0 to 82.0° F (23.3 to 27.8&deg C)
  • Specific gravity: 1.023-1.025 SG
  • Range ph: 8.0-8.4
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Any – No special requirements, it can tolerate a rather stronger flow but slow-moving water is preferable.
  • Water Region: All – They will spend time in all parts of the aquarium.

Social Behaviors

The Griffis’ Angelfish is semi-aggressive. It can get along together with a variety of fish that are not so aggressive, and even some of the more aggressive species. The best tank mates are those that are not overly excitable feeders or overly aggressive. Smaller cardinalfish, gobies, tilefish, butterflyfish, fairy basslets, fairy and flasher wrasses are good candidates. Small but very territorial fishes like dottybacks should be avoided while this angelfish is still very young or small

It can be mixed with other angelfish if the aquarium is large enough. Larger and rather territorial angelfishes like Pomacanthus and Holacanthus can be kept with it, also Centropyge, other members of Apolemichthys, Genicanthus, Chaetodontoplus and Pygoplites also could be good tank mates. This is a more peaceful angelfish and should be introduced to the tank before the others. It can fight with other Apolemichthys that are added after it is established, so add this species at the same time, and they should be the same size.

If you want to keep them with other angelfish, the tank should be at least 150 gallons with the following guidelines:

  • The tank should be mature, over 6 months.
  • There should be many hiding places, several for each angelfish. Having lots of places to hide and plenty of room to swim will help the more docile angelfish avoid the “higher ups†in the tank.
  • When introducing the first angelfish, they should be the most peaceful of the different genera, such as this angelfish.
  • Introduce the more aggressive angels last, like those in the Holacanthus group.
  • You may place juveniles of two different species, and two different sizes. Make sure you do not put them with other juveniles that are of the same coloration.
  • Before adding a new angelfish to a tank with an existing angelfish, feed the tank first.
  • If the new fish is harassed, rearrange the rock work and turn the lights off for the rest of the day.
  • Remove any angelfish that are constantly fighting and which is resulting in physical injury to each other.

These guidelines can also apply in general when adding other types of fish. it does well in a coral-rich tank with sessile inverts, but it may eat some species of hard and soft corals. Although juveniles are okay in a reef, adults will often pick on soft corals and stony corals, so they are not the best reef residents.

  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – Only in a large tank over 150 gallons, and add at the same time.
    • Peaceful fish (gobies, dartfish, assessors, fairy wrasses): Safe
    • Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Safe
    • Monitor
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (tangs, large angels, large wrasses): Safe
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (lionfish, groupers, soapfish): Monitor – Safe as long as your angelfish cannot fit into their mouths.
    • Threat – Angelfish will out compete slow eaters for food.
    • Anemones: Threat
    • Mushroom Anemones – Corallimorphs: Threat
    • LPS corals: Threat
    • SPS corals: Threat – A well fed angelfish may leave small polyp stony corals alone, although there is no guarantee.
    • Gorgonians, Sea Fans: Threat
    • Leather Corals: Threat
    • Soft Corals (xenias, tree corals): Threat
    • Star Polyps, Organ Pipe Coral: Threat
    • Zoanthids – Button Polyps, Sea Mats: Threat
    • Sponges, Tunicates: Threat
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Monitor – May be aggressive
    • Starfish: Threat
    • Feather Dusters, Bristle Worms, Flatworms: Threat
    • Clams, Scallops, Oysters: Threat
    • Copepods, Amphipods, Mini Brittle Stars: Safe – Will eat small amounts living within the algae, but this is not enough to impact the copepod population, and it is a good source of meat for them.

Sex: Sexual differences

These angelfish do not display sexual dimorphism. Sexual differences are unknown though males may be larger.

Breeding / Reproduction

Has not yet been bred in the aquarium, nor has it been cultivated in any laboratory as of yet. Angelfish generally are broadcast spawners, releasing eggs and sperm simultaneously at dusk. They dance then rise into the water column and release their eggs and sperm near the top of the water. Spawning starts before sunset with females extending all her fins as she swims next to the male. The male will go under the female and nuzzle her belly, then darts down about 2.3? to 3.9? (6 to 10 cm). The female then turns to her side and both release a white cloud of gametes containing sperm and eggs. Both males and females may mate with several others on the same evening.

  • Ease of Breeding: Unknown

Fish Diseases

Griffis’ 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. 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. Be cautious when treating with copper drugs, as this species has been observed to suffer from lateral-line and fin erosion after just a few hours of exposure to copper sulfate.

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.


The Griffis’ Angelfish is still a rarity at retailers, and when available it commands a high price. Most available specimens are around 4 inches (10 cm) long, and on very rare occasion juveniles less than 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) are available.