The King Angelfish is regal in looks and has an attitude that commands respect from its cohabitants!

The King Angelfish Holacanthus passer is a handsome fish with a “crownâ€, thus its royal designation. Its close relative the Queen AngelfishHolacanthus ciliaris also has a “crown” and a similar body structure, but these two do differ slightly in size and in overall coloration. The King Angel is smaller. reaching 14″ (35.6 cm) in length while the Queen can grow up to almost 18″ (45 cm).

Both the King and the Queen Angelfish are found in the tropical reef areas adjacent to Central America. Their habitats were once continuous but are now separated due to the uplifting of the Central America Land Bridge, roughly about 5 million years ago. This extended strip of land now separates the waters of the Atlantic Ocean from the Pacific, and connects the two vast continents of North and South America. The King Angelfish is found on the the west side of this land bridge in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and the Queen Angelfish is found on the east side in the Western Atlantic.

This angelfish is splendid looking both as an adult and as a youth, though each has a completely different color pattern. This a trait found in all species of Holacanthus angelfish. This is also true of the Pomacanthus genus of angelfish, as an example see the French AngelfishPomacanthus paru. These adults can range from a grayish green to a dark blue overall, accented with a flash of white running vertically down the body from the dorsal fin to the pectoral fin. They also have a bright orange-yellow fan shaped tail. Juveniles have a body that’s orange to the front and brown to the back with 5 or 6 blue stripes, and also accented with abright orange tail. These young specimens are very similar in appearance to juvenile Clarion Angelfish Holacanthus clarionensis foundalong the same regions, but theyare generally a bit darker than the Clarion Angel.

The feeding habits of these angelfish are quite extraordinary. Like other species of Holacanthus they feed mostly on sponges, algae, plankton, and other invertebrates, but both juveniles and adults also perform cleaning services. Juveniles will set up cleaning stations and remove ectoparasites from a variety of fish including groupers, grunts, snappers, and goatfishes. But adults will actually clean parasites from Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks Sphyrna lewini and Manta Rays! The male King Angelfish goes even further in satisfying its dietary needs, feeding off the feces of the Scissortail Chromis Chromis atrilobata. Females tend to have a more discerning palate!

This angelfish is moderate in care, just a little harder to care for than the Queen Angelfish, and is well suited for a beginner. But because it can get big it needs at least a 100 gallon aquarium. Good water quality is a must with a pH of at least 8.1, and it needs to be fed a quality food that contains sponge material and algae. Like other angelfish that are exposed to the sunlight at shallower depths, the King Angelfish will need a good spectrum lighting for its health, or at least sunshine on the tank for part of the day. Live rock with plenty of hiding places will help it feel secure, but make sure there is plenty of swimming room in front of the rocks. For best success, purchase a sub-adult that is 3 to 4″ and offer it some sponge covered rocks to induce an initial feeding response.

The King Angelfish is a very hardy aquarium inhabitant, but like so many angelfish, it can get quite belligerent. It is possibly the most aggressive of all angelfish, and definitely the most aggressive of the Holacanthus species. These guys will even nip the fins of stationary Lionfish! Tank mates do need to be active, as sedentary or passive fish will get picked on. It should be kept singly, but larger and predatory fish, aggressive fish, and other types of large angelfish in very large systems of 135 gallons or more can work. Passive peaceful fish will be tormented as well as most corals, star polyps, zoanthids and yellow colonial polyps. Large decorative shrimp, snails, crabs and bristle worms are generally safe to keep with the King Angelfish.

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

King Angelfish or Passer Angelfish (Holacanthus passer)

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Video with pleasant music of a sub-adult King Angelfish in a holding tank.

The King Angelfish, Holacanthus passer, has various color morphs from juvenile to adult. Adult King Angelfish will clean Hammerhead Sharks, so hey if you happen to have a tank the size of most houses, get one! Otherwise a tank that is at least 135 gallons minimum is need for proper growth for this 14″ angelfish! It is odd, but large angelfish, if their growth is stunted by a small tank, will result in their death! Their organs will grown to proper size, but if the body does not make it to the correct length, these organs are in essence are crushed, leading to death in about a year or so.

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Pomacanthidae
  • Genus: Holacanthus
  • Species: passer
King Angelfish – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 100 gal (379 L)
  • Size of fish – inches: 14.0 inches (35.56 cm)
  • Temperament: Large Aggressive – Predatory
  • Temperature: 66.0 to 81.0° F (18.9 to 27.2&deg C)
  • Range ph: 8.0-8.4
  • Diet Type: Omnivore
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The King Angelfish Holacanthus passer was first described by Valenciennes in 1846. They are found in the tropical Eastern Pacific Ocean in the middle and lower Gulf of California south to Peru, as well as the Galapagos Islands. This species is on the IUCN Red List as Least Concern (LC) as it has a large population with a wide distribution and no threats are currently identified.

Common names include the King Angelfish, which describes that little “crown†that develops on the adult. Others are Passer Angelfish which is part of the scientific name and Whitebanded Angelfish which describes the vertical curved thin bar on each side of the body. One additional name, though not commonly seen is Angel Real. The Spanish word “real†means royal in English, so in essence, “Royal Angelâ€. Another is the French name for this fish of Demoiselle Royale. This angelfish has been known to hybridize with the Clarion Angelfish Holacanthus clarionensis near Cabo San Lucas, located at the tip of the Baja Peninsula of Mexico.

The Holacanthus genuscontains some of the largest angelfish species, and they are all sought after for their elegance and beauty. Holocanthus is Greek for “full thorn†which is descriptive of this genus’ physical attributes. At one time or another this genus contained over 60 of the approximately 86 marine angelfish species. Today however, after much re-classification, there are only 8 species contained in this group and all but one of these are found near the Americas. The Guinean Angelfish or West African Angelfish Holacanthus africanus is the only one that is a West African species. Of the other 7 species, 3 are found in the tropical east Pacific Ocean and 4 are found in the tropical west Atlantic.

The Holacanthus angelfish require very large aquariums ranging from 125 gallons to well over 300 gallons, and they have a specialized diet that needs to include sponge material.Except for one species, these angelfish aresome ofthe most adaptable to captivity when provided with the proper environment and foods. The only exception is the Rock Beauty AngelfishHolacanthus tricolor, which adapts poorly and will often starve to death. They are well suited for very large fish only aquariums andcan be kept with other species of large angelfish, surgeonfish, and triggerfish as tankmates. However none of these marine angelfish are considered reef safe as they will severely nip at all types of sessile invertebrates.

These angelfish are commonly found at depths between 3.3 to 39 feet (1 – 12 m), yet some are found at least as deep as 262 feet (80 m). Most commonly, adults are found in groups or pairs near rocky and coral reefs. An adults male will pair off with a single female and form a long-term bond when the population is low. In higher aggregations, similar to Centropyge, one male will occupy the territories of up to 100 females. Each female defends her territory from other females, yet the males do not defend the territory. Juveniles are typically solitary and very territorial. They prefer shallower waters, and they are sometimes found in tide pools.

The foods they eat are somewhat dependent on their size and sex. Juveniles mostly eat algae and are cleaners of larger fish like snappers, groupers, grunts, and goatfish. All adults consume various types of algae, sponges and to a lesser degree invertebrate eggs, cnidarians, and zooplankton. Large males at the Galapagos Islands feed on the feces of Scissortail Chromis Chromis atrilobata, but females from this area are more into algae and benthic invertebrates. Adults, both male and female, have been known to regularly clean off large Pandarus copepods from Scalloped Hammerheads Sphyrna lewini These pests bother them to the point that these Hammerheads will descend to the depths that the King Angelfish is found for regular cleanings!

  • Scientific Name: Holacanthus passer
  • Social Grouping: Varies – Juveniles are solitary. Adults pair up when the population is low. In higher populations one male will associate with up to 100 females.
  • IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern – A stable population.


The King Angelfish is an elongated fish that is deep bodied and flat. It can grow up to 14†(35.6 cm) in length, though more commonly reaches about 10†(25 cm). This angelfish can live for 20 or more years in captivity with good care.

The adults have a few color variations. The most attractive is a dark blue form which has this coloration on the face, body and most of the dorsal and anal fins. The other form is a gray to green coloration. Both have a long white vertical band that runs from the top of the back to just about where the pectoral fins are located. The tail fin, pectoral fins, and a small section on the very top of the head, starting from the crown on their forehead to the beginning of the dorsal fin are all yellow to orange. The edges of their dorsal and anal fins are trimmed in 2 colors, orange below and a thinner line of bright blue on top. The forehead has a black round “crown with bright blue dots and a thin bright blue band that runs between both eyes across the nose area. Males are larger than females and have white pelvic fines,while the females have yellow pelvic fins.

Juveniles start with a body that’s orange to the front and brown to the back. They will develop a bright blue edging around the dorsal and anal fins, like the parents, when they start into the sub-adult age. Juveniles will have the same white band running vertically across the body, but it is longer and slowly shrinks in length as the fish ages. Juveniles also have multiple vertical bright blue bars behind the white bar, and the 2 that are on either side a brownish eye bar.

King Angelfish, Holacanthus passer - juvenile
King Angelfish (juvenile)
Photo © Animal-World: Courtesy Hiroyuki Tanaka

These young specimens are very similar in appearance to juvenile Clarion Angelfish Holacanthus clarionensis found around the same region, but are generally a bit darker than the Clarion Angel. As sub-adults they begin to develop a darker color in front of the white bar but the color stays more orange behind the white bar. Ultimately, the overall color will be a dark bluish gray or grayish green of the adults.

  • Size of fish – inches: 14.0 inches (35.56 cm) – Although they can grow up to 14″ (35.6 cm) in length, 10″ (25 cm) is most common.
  • Lifespan: 20 years – They can have a lifespan of 20 years or more with proper care.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The King Angelfish is very hardy, so can be suggested for the beginner. However it does need an aquarium that is at least 100 gallons for a single fish and 135 gallons (511 l) or more for a communityand good water quality maintained. Obtaining a tiny juvenile is not suggested, since it will have a difficult time acclimating to captive life. For the best success obtain a sub-adult between 3 to 4″ since they will be the size most likely to adapt to prepared foods. This angelfish is a grazer, so having plenty of live rock with natural macro algae growing on the surface is very helpful both initially for a new juvenile, and for long term maintenance.

They will need at least 180 gallons or more if paired male and female. Over 220 gallons (833 l) would be needed if you chose to put them with a Pomacanthus angelfish. Any other angels should not be the same size, nor have a similar color or body shape. These angelfish are very aggressive and will harass new fish added after them, which can make them difficult to find suitable tank mates for. Its tankmates need to be equally aggressive and fast moving. It is important to make sure there are a lot of places to hide and to add this fish to the tank last.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner – With large enough aquarium.

Foods and Feeding

The King Angelfish is an omnivore. In the wild juveniles feed mostly on filamentous algae, but are also known to clean external parasites from other fish. Adults feed on algae and sponges, as well as smaller amounts of invertebrate eggs, cnidarians, zooplankton, and parasites from other fish. The King Angelfish is a grazer, so plenty of live rock with natural macro algae growing on the surface is very important for their health with a small amount of meaty foods. Juveniles eat more algae than adults, thus foods while juveniles should have a greater content of algae and other vegetables.

In the aquarium feed a diet with a wide variety of vegetable materials. The quality of the food is important and any flake or pellet foods you choose should contain sponge material and Spirulina. They love Nori and will eat the various colors of dried algae sheets, and frozen preparations. They can also be offered fresh uncooked broccoli which will provide them with vitamin A and C. Adding caulerpa to the tank is also appreciated. There are several good commercial foods available as well, including Formula II and Angel Formula.

You may also supplement their diet with a very small amount of meaty fare such as brine and mysis shrimps, along with finely chopped marine flesh. Use meaty foods sparingly. If you have carnivorous fish housed with this angelfish, feed the tank with vegetable based foods first to give the angelfish their fill. Then when meaty foods are added the angelfish will be pretty full and will not consume high levels of meaty foods. Feed several small meals a day, rather than one large meal daily. Offer 2 to 3 feedings a day with only an amount that can be consumed in about 5 minutes. Left over food should be removed to keep water quality high.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore – Higher percentage of herbivorous foods are needed. Provide foods that have sponge material and Spirulina in the formula.
  • Flake Food: Occasionally
  • Tablet / Pellet: Occasionally
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet – Live feeder shrimp may be offered to help start a feeding response initially.
  • Vegetable Food: Most of Diet – A mostly herbivorous diet is needed, and will provide Vitamin A and C, which help to prevent disease.
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet – Small amounts of meaty foods should only be given sparingly.
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day

Aquarium Care

These angelfish need very good water quality, and anything below acceptable levels will result in stress which can lead to several illnesses. Water changes of 10-15% should be performed every 2 weeks for best results in 100+ gallon tanks. In tanks over 250 gallons (940 l), water changes of about 30% every 3 – 4 weeks should work fine to keep water quality high. At times with tanks that are very mature you may get away with more time in between water changes, but only if it shows no ammonia or nitrite and has very low nitrates (less than <10).

As with all angelfish, the pH level 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: Weekly – Suggested water changes of 10-15 % bi-weekly for a 100+ gallon tanks, with less needed for larger 250+ gallon tanks and very mature aquariums.

Aquarium Setup

The three basic needs are a large tank, plenty of live rock with algae growing on it, and proper foods. An adult King Angelfish will need a tank that is at least 100 gallons (681 l), and 135 gallons or more is suggested if housing it with other fish. In anything smaller they will abuse their tank mates. It is suggested to introduce your new fish into the tank they will inhabit the rest of their lives, since moving them as they grow can cause stress.

The tank should be mature with live rock that has plenty of naturally growing algae to supplement their diet. Younger fish will need plenty of places to hide within the rock work, but as the juveniles grow, the other tank mates will be using that same rock work to hide from them. Two King Angelfish can be added to a tank well over well over 180 gallons (681 l) as long as there are plenty of hiding places. They must be of different sizes and added at the same time. Water quality must be kept high and and a pH of at least 8.0 is necessary.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 100 gal (379 L) – Kept singly a 100 gallons will be fine, but a tank that is 135 gallons or more is needed if housing it with other fish.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Live Rock Requirement: Typical Plus Hiding Places
  • Substrate Type: Any
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting – Angelfish need at least a daylight bulb to help them absorb certain vitamins.
  • Temperature: 66.0 to 81.0° F (18.9 to 27.2&deg C)
  • Specific gravity: 1.023-1.025 SG – Although a specific gravity of 1.015 can be employed temporarily when treating disease, for long term health keeping the tank at 1.023 is best.
  • Range ph: 8.0-8.4
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: All – They will swim in all areas of the aquarium.

Social Behaviors

King Angelfish are very aggressive. Tank mates need to be active. They are best house with squirrelfish, groupers, snappers, surgeonfish, triggerfish, and other similar temperament fish. Do not house them with passive fish like anthias, batfish, tilefish and butterflyfish, nor with slow moving or stationary fish like frogfishes and scorpionfishes. They have been known to nip the fins of Lionfish. They also will nip the eyes of sharks, mistaking them for a coral polyp. It is essential to adding the King Angelfish into the tank as the last resident, after all other fish are established.

They are aggressive to others of their genus, Holacanthus. It is sometimes successful is you choose to add 2 differently sized King Angelfish in a tank of at least 180 gallons (681 l). Add the smaller fish first and put up a barrier between the two so the larger cannot harm the smaller angelfish, and observe their behavior. These fish may live in tanks with Pomacanthus angelfish in a tank of at least 220 gallons (833 l) but again, should be added after Pomacanthus as the last resident. Also avoid housing angelfish of similar size, shape or color. Remove two fish that are constantly causing injury to each other immediately.

These fish are not considered reef tank safe. While juveniles are somewhat behaved in a reef, adults will destroy all stony corals, clams, and most soft corals. The only possible exceptions may be the most noxious soft corals from the family Alcyoniidae or the Octocorals, but they should be monitored. Gorgonians have been known to be eaten and star polyps. Yellow colonial polyps and Zoanthids have also been known to be nipped at. Ornamental crabs and shrimp are usually left alone, but tubeworms will be eaten. It may be possible that a tank raised angelfish that has never seen a coral may be better behaved, but there’s no guarantee.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Large Aggressive – Predatory
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Sometimes – For a male female pair, the tank must be at least 180 gallons (681 l) with smaller angelfish added first, and a barrier put up to protect it from the larger angelfish until temperaments are known.
    • Peaceful fish (gobies, dartfish, assessors, fairy wrasses): Threat
    • Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Threat
    • Monitor – Allow plenty of places for them to hide if need be.
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (tangs, large angels, large wrasses): Safe
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (lionfish, groupers, soapfish): Monitor – Slower moving sharks and stingray, especially their eyes, may be picked at. Also Lionfish and other slow moving fish with appendages may be picked at.
    • 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): Monitor – May be safe with more noxious corals.
    • Star Polyps, Organ Pipe Coral: Threat
    • Zoanthids – Button Polyps, Sea Mats: Monitor – May nip at appendages.
    • Sponges, Tunicates: Threat
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Safe
    • Starfish: Threat
    • Feather Dusters, Bristle Worms, Flatworms: Threat
    • Clams, Scallops, Oysters: Threat
    • Copepods, Amphipods, Mini Brittle Stars: Safe

Sex: Sexual differences

Males are generally larger and have white pelvic fins. Females are smaller and have yellow pelvic fins.

Breeding / Reproduction

Breeding King Angelfish, to our knowledge, has not been accomplished in captivity. In nature they breed from April to November, with peak spawning on a daily basis during October and November. At dusk, over sandy bottoms near the reef, several males will gather with the dominant male taking the middle stage of this area while the smaller males use the edges. When the females arrive, each male will swim towards and above a female and flutter their bodies in short jittery motions. When she is ready to spawn she will rise toward the male, and at about 13 feet from the bottom the male will move himself just below her belly and will nuzzle it with his nose. The pair both quiver and swim in spirals toward the surface of the water, then will simultaneously release their gametes. This spawning event lasts for about 30 minutes.

  • Ease of Breeding: Difficult

Fish Diseases

The King Angelfish are fairly hardy once they are established in captivity. 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.

A condition called nutritional blindness, caused by inappropriate levels of meaty foods, can occur in angelfish around 6 to 8 months after taken into captivity. To avoid this condition feed green leafy foods that have Vitamin A, as well as making sure there is plenty of natural occurring algae in the tank. The Holacanthus genus are less prone to nutritional disorders such as Lateral Line Disease, which results from not enough vegetables with vitamin A and C.

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.


King Angelfish are commonly available in stores and online, and range in price from expensive to very expensive, depending on size.


 King Angelfish (Image Credit: LASZLO ILYES, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.0 Generic)