The Indian Yellowtail Angelfish has a creamy rich, subtle beauty, but is bold and showy in the aquarium!

The Indian Yellowtail Angelfish Apolemichthys xanthurus is subtle in beauty, but it is very hardy and doesn’t get very big. This is a mid-sized angel that will only grow to about 6 inches (15 cm) in length. It is creamy overall, bordered entirely with a broad dark margin and has a dark brown face and brown to black tipped scales, giving it a spotted appearance. The fins are edged in white and the tail fin is a paie yellow.

The juvenile is very similar to the adult, though slightly lighter. So no matter what its stage of development, the specimen you get will immediately give your tank the attractive showpiece you are looking for. The coloring of this small beauty has led to a number of descriptive common names including Cream Angelfish, Smoke Angelfish, Yellowtail Angelfish, Yellowtail Black Angelfish, Xanthurus Cream Angelfish, Xanthurus Angelfish, and Indian Yellowtail Pygmy Angel.

There are only 9 species in the Apolemichthys genus and this fish is very similar in appearance to its close relative, the Yellow-ear Angelfish Apolemichthys xanthotis. Both species possess the same general color pattern and form, but there are some slight differences. The black on the Yellow-ear is much more extensive around the entire border and the dark brownon itsface extends further back, past the base of its pectoral fin, while on the Yellowtail it stops just before this fin base. In shape, the Indian Yellowtail is deeper bodied with a shorter snout and a slightly larger eye. It is also similar in appearance to the Vermiculated AngelfishChaetodontoplus mesoleucus. Though the Vermiculate Angel is slightly larger, at about 7 inches (18 cm) in length, and has a many more (and smaller) scales along the lateral line.

The Apolemichthys genus contains some of the hardiest of the angelfishes and out of this group, this species is one of the easiest to keep. It is well suited for the beginning aquarist. Most angelfish tend to be big fish that require a very large system, but with this angel’s small size it is a much better choice for most aquarists. Although it does not need hundreds of gallons it still needs a 75 gallon tank due to its active nature. Having rock work that has some naturally growing algae on it, and formed into nooks and crannies for hiding places, will help it quickly adjust to aquarium life. Though initially shy, once established it will become a bold and showy fish. It will accept a variety of aquarium foods and will even eventually eat out of your hand.

This angelfish is mostly peaceful with other fish, though sometimes adults and sub-adults will pick on the more passive species. This is especially true if the tank is too small or you add new fish after the angelfish is well established and “owns” its space. It can be kept with other angelfish in a system of at least 180 gallons, but it does need to be added first. This is a fairly passive species, not nearly as scrappy as many of its family. So only when it is full grown and established can it be housed with the more aggressive Pomacanthus species and smaller Holacanthus species.

They are not considered a good choice for the mini reef aquarium. Even as juveniles they will pick at and eat soft polyp corals, especially Xenia and Anthelia, as well as stony corals and zoanthids. Once they are adults, they will finish the rest of your corals off. Only invertebrates such as larger shrimp, crabs and snails are safe. Although they are not really suited to any type of aquarium, they 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

Indian Yellow-Tail Angelfish – Apolemichthys xanthurus

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Indian Yellow-Tail Angelfish chillin’ in a captive reef.

The Indian Yellow-Tail Angelfish (Apolemichthys xanthurus) also known as the Cream Angelfish or Smoke Angelfish. A hardy peaceful addition to your marine aquarium! The angelfish in this video is housed in a peaceful tank and looks quite fat and happy! They grow to just under 6″, and do adjust quite well to captive care and need a tank that is 75 gallons or more. They are one of the more hardy members of this genus and can be kept with other angelfish if it is one of the first added to the tank. They are suited to a fish only set up with algae on the live rock to graze on, but some have kept them in a reef tank with lots of corals with some success. Feed foods with sponge material and Spirulina added if there is not an ample supply of algae in the tank.

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Pomacanthidae
  • Genus: Apolemichthys
  • Species: xanthurus
Indian Yellow-Tail Angelfish – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 75 gal (284 L)
  • Size of fish – inches: 5.9 inches (15.01 cm)
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 82.0° F (22.2 to 27.8&deg C)
  • Range ph: 8.0-8.4
  • Diet Type: Omnivore
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Indian Yellowtail Angelfish Apolemichthys xanthurus was described by Bennet in 1832. It is found in the Western Indian Ocean, which also includes the Mauritius, Maldives (found in deeper waters here), Sri Lanka and India’s east coast. An odd reported sighting, which was obviously an aquarium release, was found off Osezaki, Japan.

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. Other common names include Cream Angelfish, Smoke Angelfish, Yellowtail Angelfish, Yellowtail Black Angelfish, Xanthurus Cream Angelfish, Xanthurus Angelfish, Pygmy Yellowtail Angelfish, and Indian Yellowtail Pygmy Angel.

This angelfish is closely related to, and hybridizes with the Flagfin Angelfish (Three Spot Angelfish)Apolemichthys trimaculatus in the wild. The hybird offspring were originally thought to be a distinct species. They were called the Armitage Angelfish and initially described as Apolemichthys armitagei, though are now known to be a cross. Typically the color of this hybrid varies with a darker dusky upper back, and yellow spots on their scales that gradually brighten to a more solid yellow toward the belly area. The head is darker with black patch on the top edge of the tailfin. This hybrid is hardy, like the Indian Yellow-Tail Angelfish (A. xanthurus) parent, readily accepting flake food.

These angelfish inhabit areas with abundant soft coral and stony coral growths at depths between 16 to 115 feet (5 – 35 m), but are more common at depths below 98 feet (30 m). They occur in lagoons, reef faces, and fore-reef slopes. Interestingly it has been noted that the individuals who dwell in shallower waters generally occur alone while those found in deeper waters are mostly found in pairs. Like others in their genus, they ingest benthic algae and weeds as well as tunicates and sponges.

  • Scientific Name: Apolemichthys xanthurus
  • Social Grouping: Varies – Solitary as juveniles and in shallower waters and found in pairs in deeper waters.
  • IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern


The Indian Yellowtail Angelfish has a body that is flat, deep and elongated. Juveniles are a little less elongated. These fish will grow up to 5.9†(15 cm) in length and can have a lifespan of 10 years or more. Marine angelfish are known to live from 10 to 20 years in captivity.

The adult is pale gray or light brown on the main part of the body, with larger black colored scales from the mid body to the dorsal area. From the mid body down to the belly the scales have a pearl white coloring. The head is black to dark brown with a light nose, a bright yellow spot one each side of the temple area, and a bright yellow tail fin. The dorsal and anal fins are black to dark brown with a white to blue trimming on the outer edge. The pelvic fins are white to yellow and the pectoral fins are clearish yellow-white.

Juveniles have a much lighter color in the main body area. They have several rows of color which begins with a yellow nose, then a thick black vertical bar that runs from the forehead, through the eye to the bottom of the body in a slight crescent shape. Next from behind the eye toward the back 3/4 of the body, there is a gradual yellow and pearly white scale combo that gradually darkens to yellowish white and gray scales nearing the dorsal fin area. The remaining back 1/4 of the body which includes the back half of the dorsal and anal fins, are black with the same white margin as the adult and ending with a bright yellow tailfin.

  • Size of fish – inches: 5.9 inches (15.01 cm)
  • Lifespan: 10 years – Alhough it is not known how long this more recently discovered marine angelfish lives, most angelfish are known to live from 10 to 20 years in captivity.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

This angelfish is moderately hardy and one of the easiest to keep from the Apolemichthys genus. They tend to ship well and do not exhibit the same stresses that others from this genus seem to be prone to. They are initially reserved, but once acclimated this is a very durable fish and can be recommended for the beginning aquarist. Obtain juveniles between 1.5†to 3†(4-7 cm), for the best success.

They will readily accept a wide range of prepared foods. But like any angelfish, having live rock with lots of algae growth along with live sponges and tunicates will help to acclimate a picky eater. A mature tank of at least 75 gallons (283 liters) is suggested. Do not add them to a tank with dwarf angelfish or other angelfish already established, since they will pester a newly acquired specimen. They are very peaceful, but once they adapt they may show an aggressive streak if the tank is undersized and a new fish is introduced after them. They are not reef safe.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy – Will readily take prepared foods in captivity.
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner

Foods and Feeding

The Indian Yellowtail Angelfish is an omnivore. In the wild they are mostly herbivorous, but alsoeat sponge material and tunicates as well as some meaty foods. They only eat small amounts of copepods and other meaty items found in the algae they eat, so in the aquarium lean toward foods for herbivores with sponge material added. They will eat flake, prepared foods for herbivores, mysis and chopped seafoods. There are several good commercial foods available including Formula II and Angel Formula. Feed several times per day to supplement the algae they are eating on the live rock.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore – Needs algae, sponge, and tunicates as the main foods with just a little meaty foods.
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet – Not necessary unless fish is not eating after a few days.
  • Vegetable Food: Most of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet – Mysis and chopped meaty seafoods
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day

Aquarium Care

Excellent water parameters are key in helping to keep this angelfish healthy, and the pH should never drop below 8.0. In the minimum sized tank of 75 gallons (378 liters), perform 20% water changes bi-Weekly, more if overstocked. A water change of 30% should be performed with very large tanks over 100 gallons, 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 20% bi-weekly for a 75 gallon tank (378 liters) and 30% for larger aquariums.

Aquarium Setup

These angelfish adapt quite easily to captive care. They can do well in a typical setting with live rock and places to hide, but also make sure there is open area for the Indian Yellowtail Angelfish to swim. Form several hiding places within the rock work to help your angelfish feel secure. A tank that is at least 75 gallons is needed, with lots of algae growing on the rocks for their initial feeding needs. Over tune they will get used to their owners, often feeding out of their hand. In a tank over 150 gallons, a mated male/female pair may be kept.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 75 gal (284 L) – In a tank over 150 gallons, a mated male/female pair may be kept.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Live Rock Requirement: Typical Plus Hiding Places – Hiding places are appreciated as refuge for all shy fish.
  • Substrate Type: Any
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting – Lighting is needed to provide algal crops on live rock.
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 82.0° F (22.2 to 27.8&deg C)
  • Specific gravity: 1.023-1.025 SG
  • Range ph: 8.0-8.4 – It is important to keep pH at 8.0 or higher with Angelfish.
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Any
  • Water Region: Bottom – They will become bold open swimmers but tend to stay in the middle or bottom area of the aquarium.

Social Behaviors

The Indian Yellowtail Angelfish is peaceful and works great in a large peaceful community tank. They only become aggressive toward their own kind and other fish that are added after them if they are kept in a tank that is too small. Clownfish and anthias, though considered semi-aggressive should be okay, just make sure they do not bully your angelfish. It is possible, like the Threespot Angelfish, that the Indian Yellow-Tail Angelfish will exhibit a darker coloration when they feel intimidated.

Indian Yellowtail Angelfish, Apolemichthys xanthurus, Cream Angelfish, Smoke Angelfish
Indian Yellowtail Angelfish
Photo © Animal-World:
Courtesy David Brough

This is a fairly passive species, not nearly as scrappy as many of its family. Once it is fully acclimated, some of the more peaceful angelfish can be added as tank mates if the aquarium is large enough, a tank over 150 gallons (568 liters). Do not house it with dwarf angelfish since dwarves will bully it into not eating, and eventually starvation. Only when it is full grown and established can it be housed with the more aggressive Pomacanthus species and smaller Holacanthus species.

They are not considered reef safe. Invertebrates such as larger shrimp, crabs and snails are safe, but they will consume all other types of corals. Even as juveniles they will pick at and eat soft polyp corals, especially Xenia and Anthelia, as well as stony corals and zoanthids.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Peaceful – Will become aggressive in a very small tank in which they are established if adding another fish after them.
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Sometimes – Only as mated pairs in a tank over 150 gallons (568 liters)
    • Peaceful fish (gobies, dartfish, assessors, fairy wrasses): Safe
    • Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Monitor – They may pick on the Angelfish.
    • Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (tangs, large angels, large wrasses): Threat
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (lionfish, groupers, soapfish): Threat
    • Threat
    • Anemones: Threat
    • Mushroom Anemones – Corallimorphs: Threat
    • LPS corals: Threat
    • SPS corals: Threat
    • 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: Safe
    • Starfish: Monitor – May nip at appendages
    • Feather Dusters, Bristle Worms, Flatworms: Threat – May nip at appendages
    • Clams, Scallops, Oysters: Threat – May nip at appendages
    • Copepods, Amphipods, Mini Brittle Stars: Safe – Will ingest copepods and amphipods while grazing, but does not target populations or reduce numbers.

Sex: Sexual differences

Indian Yellowtail Angelfish do not display sexual dimorphism. The sex is 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

The Indian Yellowtail Angelfish is hardy and if it does become ill, it is easy to treat. However, 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.


The Indian Yellowtail Angelfish is is available at pet stores and online from time to time, and at a low to moderate price. With the high success rate in keeping it this fish is a great buy.