The Potter’s Angelfish is a beautiful and breathtaking pygmy Angelfish found only in Hawaii!

The Potter’s Angelfish Centropyge potteri is a magnificently colored pygmy angelfish. It is typically a bright orange with fine vertical blue to black stripes on the entire body with yellow to orange fins. This is a good sized dwarf angel, reaching almost 4″ (10 cm) in length. But despite its small size, it does best in a well established aquarium. For marine aquarists with some experience in keeping saltwater fish this little angel willmake a fabulous aquarium center piece.

There are only two dwarf angelfish that are endemic to Hawaii. The Potter’s Pygmy Angelfish and the Fisher’s Angelfish Centropyge fisheri . The Fisher’s is the smaller of the two, reaching only about 3″ in length. But it isalso very quite colorful with a bluish sheen on an orangish brown body. There are a couple other pygmy angelfish found in hawaii, but those speciesinhabit other regions of the Pacific Ocean as well. In Hawaiian waters, the Flame AngelfishCentropyge loriculus is rather rare butoccasionally spotted in shallower waters, as is the Japanese Angelfish Centropyge interruptus .

These angelfish are moderately hardy and a great choice for an intermediate aquarist, and even suitable for a dedicated beginner. They do need a mature tank that is a minimum size of 55 gallons with lots of live rock structures. Proper tank mates and good nutrition also play a role in helping to keep these fish. Offer plenty of hiding spaces within the rocks and lots of naturally growing filamentous and diatom algae. Also supply sponge material and meaty foods to supplement their diet. They will feed readily and adapt to aquarium life quickly if not pestered by tankmates and having plenty of places to retreat. They are not as aggressive as some Dwarf Angelfish, but will defend their territory, so they need to be the last addition to the tank.

Look for a healthy specimen, one advantage of dwarf angelfish is that their color does not fade like many of the larger angels. A healthy Potter’s Angel should be eating, have a filled out body, and should be very interested in its surroundings. Look for one that is alert, yet curiousness about those who approach the tank. While they may initially hide, they should peek back out to size you up. It should also be difficult to catch. Fortunately since this fish is only found in Hawaiian waters, you never have to worry about cyanide being used in it collection.

All Potter’s Angelfish are born female and can be paired according to size, not necessarily color. Typically, the larger fish becomes male. Making a pair is possible by buying a larger Potter’s Angelfish and a smaller Potter’s Angelfish, and within a few months hopefully they will assume their roles as male and female. Dwarf angelfish in generalwill spawn in captivity.

Dwarf angelfish generally avoid noxious soft corals as well as most mushrooms. The Potter’s Angelfish, though may still pick on soft corals. With LPS, SPS, and clams, interestingly, it is actually the mucous on the coral they eat, not the flesh of the coral, yet this nipping will still cause the coral to retract and eventually die from the stress of mucous munching.

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

Potter’s Angelfish (Centropyge potteri) and Cleaner Shrimp

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Video shows a Cleaner Shrimp thoroughly cleaning a Potter’s Angelfish!

Kind of funny how it seems that Cleaner Shrimp is aggressively cleaning the Potter’s Angelfish, Centropyge potteri, who is obviously fine with it! Such a symbiotic relationship is one of the reasons we keep a saltwater tank! This particular dwarf angelfish is found around the Hawaiian Islands, and would not typically see this Cleaner Shrimp in the wild, but somehow, just KNOWS it is the crustacean for the job! Keeping in a tank of at least 50 gallons with algae growing on the live rock is key in keeping these dwarf angelfish alive and healthy.

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Pomacanthidae
  • Genus: Centropyge
  • Species: potteri
Potter’s Pygmy Angelfish – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 55 gal (208 L)
  • Size of fish – inches: 3.9 inches (10.01 cm)
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Temperature: 68.0 to 79.0° F (20.0 to 26.1&deg C)
  • Range ph: 8.0-8.4
  • Diet Type: Omnivore
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Potter’s Angelfish Centropyge potteri was described by Jordan and Metz in 1912. It is on the IUCN Red List as Least Concerned (LC) with a stable population. This Centropyge species is endemic to Hawaii, and was named to honor Frederick A. Potter (1874-1961) who was the director of the Waikiki Aquarium in Hawaii from 1903 to 1940. Other common names they are known by are the Potter’s Angel, Potter’s Pygmy Angelfish, Potter Pygmy Angelfish, and Russet Angelfish.

The Potter’s Pygmy Angelfish is found mainly near the Hawaiian Islands and Johnston Atoll. They are typically found at depths from 3 to 450 feet (1 to 138 m), with adults inhabiting areas typically at 33 feet (10m). This dwarf angel inhabits the clear waters of seaward reefs among rock, coral or rubble and feeds benthic algae, weeds and detritus. They are usually seen in pairs or in small groups of one male with one to eight females. They will attack damsels and tangs that are indigenous to the area to protect their spawning site and food source.

There is an electric blue variety which has no orange is present and inhabit depths over 198 feet (60 m). This particular variation has been known to spawn with the Flame Angelfish C. loricula .

  • Scientific Name: Centropyge potteri
  • Social Grouping: Groups – It is usually seen in pairs or in small groups of a male and up to eight females.
  • IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern – Stable population.


The Potter’s Angelfish has the typical shape for a dwarf species, having a small elongated oval shape body with rounded fins. They grow to a maximum length of 4″ (10cm). They typically have a lifespan of 6 years in the wild. In captivity, a species at the Waikiki Aquariun in Hawaii had a lifespan of 14 years.

Potter's Pygmy Angelfish, Centropyge potteri
Photo Courtesy:
Seth Weintraub

They are typically bright orange with irregular, thin fine vertical black to blue stripes on the entire body, including the dorsal, anal and tail fin. The lower mid area of the body has a blue irregular oval area with some species having blue on the backs of the anal, tail and dorsal fin. The pelvic fins are a solid yellow to orange, and the pectoral fins are a clearish yellow to orange.

Males have a broader area of blue in the mid section of the body, reaching downward to the belly area. There is also an electric blue variant, that has black to burgundy stripes, which is found in deep waters over 198 feet (60m). Juveniles have similar coloring to that of the adults.

They grow to a maximum length of 4†(10cm). They typically have a lifespan of 6 years in the wild. In captivity, a species at the Waikiki Aquariun in Hawaii had a lifespan of 14 years.

  • Size of fish – inches: 3.9 inches (10.01 cm)
  • Lifespan: 6 years – They typically have a lifespan of 6 years in the wild. In captivity, a species at the Waikiki Aquariun in Hawaii had a lifespan of 14 years.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The Potter’s Angelfish are moderately hardy fish if provided a good enviroment and properly fed. They are a great choice for an intermediate aquarist, but a dedicated beginner can also have succes with this fish. They need a mature tank that is minimum of 55 gallons (208 l). Of utmost importance is multiple places to hide so they will feel secure enough to come out. They need tank mates that won’t pester them as they adjust, or they will not eat. Occasionally an individual may resist foods initially, so a tank with plenty of algae can help considerably, and having companions that are not competing algae eaters.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy – Most will feed readily if not bothered by other fish, and quickly adjust to aquarium life.
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate – This dwarf angelfish could be kept by a dedicated begiinner as it is suitable for less experienced aquarists.

Foods and Feeding

The Potter’s Pygmy Angelfish is is an omnivore that feeds on benthic algae, weeds and detritus in the wild. In the aquarium it needs feeding several times a day and providing a variety of good foods is important. These include prepared foods with marine algae, spirulina enriched foods, mysis shrimp and high-quality meaty foods that are easily obtained at the grocery store. Make sure the meaty chopped pieces are very small since they have small mouths. There are several good commercial foods available including Formula II and Angel Formula.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore – They are an omnivore, leaning more toward algae consumption. Offer a diet with Spirulina algae and sponge material included.
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet – Will ingest copepods while grazing, which is a necessary food for them. Some live foods like live brine or mysis shrimp or black worms can be used to start a feeding response if fish will not eat.
  • Vegetable Food: Most of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day

Aquarium Care

The Potter’s Angel is moderately hardy, but still needs good water. Water quality and tank size are important. Keep in mind these angelfish are constant grazers and like tangs, lots of food in equals a lot of bio load, so water quality must be monitored. They need a pH of at least 8.0, and water changes that do not include scrubbing algae off of rock. If the tank is 55 to 60 gallons, a bi-weekly change of 10% to 15% would be good. If your tank is over 100 gallons, every 3 weeks to a month do a 20% change. Keeping up with your water testing will tell you when your tank needs a water change.

  • Water Changes: Bi-weekly – A bi-weekly change of 10% to 15% is suggested. If your tank is over 100 gallons, then every 3 weeks to a month do a 20% change.

Aquarium Setup

They will do well in a typical reef setting with live rock and plenty of places to hide. It may be helpful have areas of rubble for the algae to grow on, which will aid in feeding them their needed veggies. A minimum of 55 gallons is needed for one fish and 75 or more for a mated pair. Provide water parameters of: 68-79° F, pH 8.0-8.4, sg 1.023-1.025. Even juveniles need an established tank that is at least 55 gallons. Add dwarf angels to the tank at the same time and as last additions.

The aquarium needs to be at least 6 months old or more to provide all the necessary algae to feed your angelfish. Adding other algae eaters is not suggested, unless once the angelfish is established and it is determined they need help with the algae! Other algae eating fish, especially tangs and some damsels will not be welcomed by your Potter’s Angelfish.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 55 gal (208 L) – A tank of at least 55 gallons with plenty of algae growth for a single specimen, 75 to 100 gallons (283 to 378 l) for a pair.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Live Rock Requirement: Typical Plus Hiding Places – Hiding places are key to helping dwarf angelfish feel secure, and a good amount of live rock to supply natural foods is also important.
  • Substrate Type: Any – Adding areas of rubble for algae to grow on is suggested.
  • Lighting Needs: Any – In the wild they spend most of their time at depths that do not show off their colors as well as in an aquarium setting, so you want to keep them with medium to low light levels. There does, however need to be enough light to keep the algae growth high for their grazing needs.
  • Temperature: 68.0 to 79.0° F (20.0 to 26.1&deg C)
  • Breeding Temperature: 0.0° F – Lower temperatures may induce spawning since they spawn from Dec to May
  • Specific gravity: 1.023-1.025 SG – Angelfish in general do not do well under 1.023 for long periods of time.
  • Range ph: 8.0-8.4 – Angelfish will deteriorate quickly under 8.0.
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Any – While they enjoy brisk water movement, they like a calmer area with a lower flow in areas where they graze.
  • Water Region: Bottom – Generally they are found in rocks and crevices in the ocean. In the aquarium they will inhabit the bottom and then go anywhere once they are comfortable.

Social Behaviors

The Potter’s Angelfish is a semi-aggressive Centropyge. Like other members of this genus it is solitary and stays close to shelter. They generally dart from crevice to crevice exposing themselves for only brief periods of time. This angelfish becomes very aggressive in tanks under 55 gallons and in tanks less than 3 feet long. They can be kept in a community but this dwarf angelfish needs to be the last fish added into a tank, and with relatively peaceful fish that will not pester it as it acclimates.

They can be kept alone or as a male/female pair. They can also be kept in a harem of one male with up to 8 females, yet this would require a very large tank. Pairs need 75 to 100 gallons (283 to 378 l), but if putting in more than one female, add 25 gallons more for each additional female.

Sponges, tunicates, cnidarians as well as hard coral and unknown coral polyps have been found in their stomachs in the wild. So as with most dwarf angelfish, exercise caution when adding them to a reef tank. They may nip at corals and clams and have been known to chase after tangs and damselfish that are indigenous to the area they are found in, quite possibly to keep them away from their food source.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive – Probably one of the more aggressive of the semi-aggressive dwarf angelfish.
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Sometimes – A male/female pair can be kept in a tank over 75 gallons (284 l), a larger tank will be needed for a small harem.
    • Peaceful fish (gobies, dartfish, assessors, fairy wrasses): Threat
    • Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Monitor – Will harass smaller fish like clowns and anthias if tank is only 55 gallons. Larger tanks, that are at least 75 gallons, with more hiding places will allow these semi-aggressive smaller fish to fair better.
    • Monitor
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (tangs, large angels, large wrasses): Monitor – They have been known to chase certain surgeon fish when in a bad mood! Aggressive toward fish that are similar in shape, size, or eating behavior.
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (lionfish, groupers, soapfish): Threat – Safe unless the fish is large enough to eat your dwarf angelfish.
    • Threat – Angel fish will out compete these slow moving fish for food.
    • Anemones: Monitor – As long as a pugnacious clownfish is guarding the anemone, it should be okay.
    • Mushroom Anemones – Corallimorphs: Monitor – May eat waste exuding from mushrooms, which is not harmful, just keep an eye on the fish.
    • LPS corals: Threat – Most eat slime layer, causing coral to close and eventually die. In a very large system, the damage may not be as severe.
    • SPS corals: Threat – Most eat slime layer, causing coral to close and eventually die. In a very large system, the damage may not be as severe.
    • Gorgonians, Sea Fans: Monitor – They may graze on the slime they exude preventing them from opening fully, which can cause eventual death of the coral, but still monitor for individual preferences.
    • Leather Corals: Monitor – Safe with most from the Sinularia, Sarcophytom, Cladiella, and Paralemnalia genera, but still monitor for individual preferences.
    • Soft Corals (xenias, tree corals): Threat – Safe with most from the genus Effatounaria, but still monitor for individual preferences.
    • Star Polyps, Organ Pipe Coral: Threat
    • Zoanthids – Button Polyps, Sea Mats: Monitor – May nip at polyps if not well fed.
    • Sponges, Tunicates: Threat
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Safe
    • Starfish: Monitor – May pick at appendages if not well fed.
    • Feather Dusters, Bristle Worms, Flatworms: Monitor – May nip at appendages if not well fed.
    • Clams, Scallops, Oysters: Threat – Most angelfish will eat the slime layer of clams, causing the clam to close and eventually die.
    • Copepods, Amphipods, Mini Brittle Stars: Safe – Will not decimate populations as it is not a obligate eater of these foods.

Sex: Sexual differences

In the typical orange variation, males have more blue in the mid section, reaching usually to the bottom of the belly area.

Breeding / Reproduction

As of yet they have not been bred in captivity. In the wild, the Potter’s Angelfish has been seen spawning between December and May around dusk. As noted by an observer in Hawaii, the pair will choose an area over a high outcropping of rock in their territory. The courtship beings with the male approaching the female and swimming vertically next to her, in a smooth wave like motion. He then positions himself above the female, stops, erects his dorsal and anal fin, flutters his pectoral fins and turns slightly to the side and drifts slowly. If she does not respond he begins again with the wave swim. This process is repeated until the female responds to his constant attempts to attract her.

When the female is ready, their red coloration intensifies and they produce grunts and clicks that are audible to observers. The male will lead the female to an area about 3 feet above a notably large outcropping in their territory where he continues his display. Once the female’s fear of being in open water subsides, she will positioned herself in a way to tell the male she is ready. Quickly, the male nuzzles her vent with his nose until eggs are released, after which, he immediately released sperm. Both ran for cover after the spawning with the female chasing the male, nipping at his tail fin. Both turn in for the night, as their offspring start their own journey.

  • Ease of Breeding: Difficult – Not bred in captivity at this time.

Fish Diseases

Providing a dwarf angelfish with plenty of places to hide and clean water is the best way to prevent illness. Calm fish are healthy fish. If not stressed, they will have a stronger immune system to prevent infections. Like other saltwater angelfish, dwarf angelfish can suffer any disease that captive saltwater environments have to offer. Fish problems can be broken into one of (or a combination of) these types: parasites, bacterial and fungal disease, or physical ailments (wounds and injuries). To learn all about fish problems and find specific answers, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.

The best and first defense to prevent diseases is a quarantine period before introducing a new fish. Quarantine tanks should be bare with a PVC tube where the fish can hide. Do regular water changes every day or so. Secondly, fresh water dips can also help to kill anything that is on their body that may spread. PH and temperature must be the same (just use baking soda to bring up the PH if you have soft water but use a test). Start with 5 minutes and up to 15 minutes if they are not showing any signs of distress. This is really only needed if you see anything on their body or if the back fin is starting to fray.

Dwarf angelfish diseases and treatments:

  1. Parasitic and Protozoan diseases
    Dwarf angelfish are prone to parasites like White Spot Disease Cryptocaryon irritans, also known as Marine Ich, Saltwater Ich, or Crypt. Another common disease is Marine Velvet or Velvet Disease Oodinium ocellatum, (syn: Amyloodinium ocellatum or Branchiophilus maris), which is a parasitic skin flagellate. These are two of the most common diseases.
    – Symptoms of White Spot Disease are constant scratching and flashing, culminating with numerous white dots all over the body and fins. 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.
    – 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.
    • Treatment of parasites
      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.

      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.

      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.
  2. Bacterial Diseases
    As with all dwarf angels, they are also vulnerable to bacterial and fungal diseases. Bacterial infections are often a secondary infection resulting from damage caused by a parasitic or protozoan disease. One of concern is the Vibrio bacteria, which starts as an internal infection, turns into Dropsy, Popeye, Bleeding or Red Streaks on the skin. It is a very fast acting bacteria that will kill your angelfish in days. One way it typically starts is with an innocently frayed back fin. This disease will quickly spread and kill a fish within 2 days.
    • Treatment of bacterial diseases
      Fresh water dips are an important step to kill anything that is on their body that may spread. PH and temperature must be the same (just use baking soda to bring up the PH if you have soft water but use a test). Start with 5 minutes and up to 15 minutes if they are not showing any signs of distress. This is really only needed if you see anything on their body or if the back fin is starting to fray. Only treat in 1/2 doses any medications containing cleated copper as all angelfish are sensitive to this element in it’s free form.

      For dropsy, popeye, fin/tail rot and septicemia, which are at time secondary infections, another product you can use along with Seachems Metronidazole or alone is Seachems Kanaplex. You still need to use Focus to bond the Kanaplex to the food. Kanaplex, when used with Metronidazole in the same food, would be 2 scoops of Focus, 1 scoop of Kanaplex and 1 scoop of Metronidazole, yet this combination should only be fed once a day for 7 days, since Kanaplex should only be used for 7 days maximum. If you need to continue past 7 days, use only Metronidazole in a separate mixture for further treatment. This product can also be added to the water (without focus) if the fish is not eating.
  3. Physical Ailments
    Physical Ailments are often the result of the environment, either water conditions or incompatible tankmates. Poor quality water conditions can lead to fish gasping, not eating, jumping out of the tank, and more. Dwarf angelfish when very stressed or being picked on will hover in the upper corner of the tank and should be removed if the fish bullying your angelfish is not. Tank mate problems can result in nipped fins and bite wounds..
    • Treatment for physical ailments
      Look for and remove bully fish.
      Products on the market to help include stress relievers like Melafix, Wound Treat, and Bio Bandage.


The Potter’s Angelfish is usually available online and in stores, but the price range is moderately high.