The Queen Angelfish is a bold and dazzling aquarium fish, a “queenly” specimen indeed!

The Queen Angelfish Holacanthus ciliaris is a graceful and exquisite beauty. A spectacular icon in the Caribbean and Western Atlantic, these angelfish have a broad distribution ranging from Florida south to Brazil, throughout the Bahamas and into the Gulf of Mexico.

Its vibrant coloration isa blue to blue-green overall with yellow fins, a yellow tailfin, and its median fins edged in a radiant blue. However its most distinctive featureis the brilliant blue ‘crown’ at the nape. This crown sitting on its forehead is what led to its becoming known as the Queen Angel. Numerous color variations are common throughout it range, but specimens from the Caribbean and the Bahamas are noted as being some of the most vibrantly hued.

These angelfish are similar in shape to both the King AngelfishHolacanthus passer and the Blue AngelfishHolacanthus bermudensis, but in coloring they most closely resemble the Blue Angel. In fact these two are so similar in appearance that they can easily be mistaken for one another and are often confused. They differ primarily in pattern, notably the Blue Angelfish does not have a crown. Yet these two co-mingle in their native waters and naturally occurring hybrids are not uncommon. It’s actually thought that the entire population in Bermuda may consist of hybrids between these two species.

This angelfish is a long time aquarium favorite, popular with both European and American hobbyists. It is considered one of the hardiest angelfish and well suited for a beginner. But because it can grow up to almost 18″ (45 cm) in length, this makes it rather difficult to keep. In nature its diet consists mainly of sponges and the kinds it consumes is huge, with over 40 different types having been found in their stomachs. Good water quality is a must and it needs to be fed a quality food that contains sponge material and algae. Due to its size and specialized needs, this is not a specimen that will be seen in many community aquariums, andalso push it moreinto the intermediate aquarist category. But it is a gorgeous fish for any aquarist able and willing to accommodate it.

A tank that is at least 180 gallons or more is essential for its long term care. Live rock arranged to form many hiding places is needed, but a fish this large also needs plenty of room to turn around and maneuver. So its imperative to plan the rock placement accordingly. The tank should be fairly mature and having some algae and natural sponge growth on the rock is ideal. In nature these fish utilize the sunlight to absorb certain vitamins and thus avoid developing deficiencies, so a good spectrum light will also help this angelfish stay healthy.

This angelfish is aggressive and predatory so should only be house with similar temperament tankmates. Its best kept singly as it will fight with its own kind. It will also be aggressive with fish that are similar in size and color. It can be kept with other large angelfish, but only in very large tanks over 220 gallons. It’s best to add the least aggressive personalities first, add those with similar temperaments at the same time, and add the most aggressive personalities such as this angelfish last. Make sure all earlier additions have adjusted well and are eating before adding this fish, and monitor any new additions closely. This is not a reef-safe fish as it will eat the polyps of both hard and soft corals. It may be safe with more noxious soft corals however, and some invertebrates such as larger cleaner shrimp, snails, crabs, and bristle worms will be left alone.

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

Queen Angelfish & Yellowtail Damselfish

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Queen Angelfish

Queen Angelfish hanging out with a YellowTail Damselfish in the wild.

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Pomacanthidae
  • Genus: Holacanthus
  • Species: ciliaris
Queen Angelfish – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 180 gal (681 L)
  • Size of fish – inches: 17.7 inches (45.01 cm)
  • Temperament: Large Aggressive – Predatory
  • 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 Queen Angelfish Holacanthus ciliaris was first described and named in 1758 by Linnaeus. It is found in the tropical west Atlantic Ocean around the entire coast of Florida, the Gulf of Mexico to Brazil and in the Eastern Central Atlantic at St. Paul’s Rocks, which is where a blue variant is found. This species is on the IUCN Red List as Least Concern (LC). Although it is harvested in high numbers in Brazil, that is not the case overall and it is presumed to have a stable population across most of its range.

This species of angelfish was first put into the genus named Chaetodon, with its original scientific classification being Chaetodon ciliaris, but it was later moved to the Holacanthus genus. Other synonyms also used in the past for this fish include Chaetodon squamulosus, Chaetodon parrae, Holacanthus conutus, Holacanthus formosus, and Angelichthys iodocus. Common names include Queen Angel, Demoiselle Royale (in France), and also Blue angelfish, Golden angelfish, and Yellow angelfish. But although the names Blue, Golden, and Yellow are associated with this species, they are more conventionally seen used as common names for other species of angelfish.

The Holacanthus genusconatins 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 Angelfish Holacanthus 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.

The depths at which the Queen Angelfish is found ranges from 6.6 to 230 feet (2-70 m). Adults are most commonly found in groups or pairs. They inhabit offshore reefs,occurring along both inner and outer reef area. In the wilda male will pair off with a single female when the population is low, but usually males have harems and will defend a territory with two or four females. The males will visit with the females daily, feeding with each one for up to 5 minutes before moving onto the next. Juveniles and sub-adults are solitary and very territorial.

These angelfish have been known to hybridize with the Blue Angelfish Holacanthus bermudensis. The offspring were initially mis-identified as a totally different species and were named Townsend’s Angelfish Holacanthus townsendi. But they are now known to simply be the result of these two angelfish species cross breeding. The Queen Angelfish has also been known to occasionally hybridize with the Rock Beauty AngelfishHolacanthus tricolor.

The foods consumed by this angelfish is dependent on its sex and size. Juveniles eat mostly filamentous algae and will clean parasites off other fish. Adults feed almost totally on sponges along with smaller amounts of tunicates, phytoplankton, jellyfish, and hydroids. One study of multiple specimens showed up to 40 different species of sponge in their stomachs. The amount of sponge material found in their stomachs is consisted almost 97% of the time.

  • Scientific Name: Holacanthus ciliaris
  • Social Grouping: Varies – Solitary, pairs and harems
  • IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern – A stable population.


The Queen Angelfish is an elongated fish that’s deep bodied and flat, and it hasbeautiful trailing dorsal and anal fins on mature adults. It can reach up to almost 18 inches (45 cm) in length and can live for 20 or more years in captivity with good care.

This fish sports a circular blackish crown on the forehead, which is its namesake. This area is trimmed in bright blue and has bright blue speckles. There are a few color variations depending on location, but the most common coloration has yellow scales with blue edges. Areas of the face, belly, and fins have a yellow to green color. The nose, eyes, chin, gill covers, and the edges of the fins are bright blue, as well as the area around the crown. The tail fin is yellow along with some yellow found on the pelvic and pectoral fins. One in 300 specimens have a blue face.

Some of the most colorful specimens come from the Bahamas and Caribbean islands. Those from St. Paul’s Rocks have a spectacular blue face with a teal body, and white tailfin that is edged in teal and purple. There is a purple edging that surrounds the entire fish, along with a black circular clown with pale speckles. The pectoral fins typically have a yellow base as opposed to a blue base in the other variations. Although on rare occasions there are other color variations, basically they all have the crown on the forehead area. Males are typically larger.

There is a constant flux of color in juveniles as they move into sub-adults, then into adulthood. The more colorful juveniles are mostly yellow with a cast of green with a blue bar over the eyes, trimmed in bright blue and a yellow belly. Duller juveniles have more of a dusky green on the main part of the body, with just hint of yellow within this green. Both juvenile color variations have a yellow belly, pectoral and pelvic and tail fins and a blue spot on the gill cover.

On juveniles, the last 2/3rd of the body have 2 vertical curved bright blue bars followed by one straight vertical bar right before the tailfin. There is a thin bright blue line that trims the outer edge of the body from the forehead, across the top and back of the dorsal fin, then trims the anal fin. Sub-adults first loose the bright blue bars on the body as the color brightens. Colors that stay throughout their live are the yellow chin, gill cover, and spot above and below the base of the tailfin.

The hybrid offspring of the Queen and Blue Angelfish were once scientifically described as Holacanthus townsendi because at first they were thought to be a separate species, though not now. The offspring will carry traits from both parents, yet brothers and sisters may not look the same. The coloration of some hybrids consists of blotches of color very much like the freshwater Koi species. Others can be completely blue or completely green. Some adults can look like the Blue Angelfish but with a solid yellow tail (Blue Angelfish have a brownish tail with yellow tipping). Others can look just like the Queen Angelfish, but lack the crown. There is also a blue variation with almost purple accents and a green tinted variation as well.

  • Size of fish – inches: 17.7 inches (45.01 cm)
  • Lifespan: 20 years – They can have a lifespan of 20 years or more with proper care.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The Queen Angelfish is very hardy, but it does need an aquarium that is at least 180 gallons (681 l) or more, making it moderately difficult to keep. This angelfish does at times have protozoan parasites that should be treated immediately after they appear. Feeding plant material and preparations with sponge material is very important to their health.

At least 220 gallons or more will be needed for a paired male and female or 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 angelfishare very aggressive and will harass new fish added after them, which can make them difficult to find suitable tank mates for. It is important to make sure there are a lot of places to hide and to add this fish to the tanklast.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner

Foods and Feeding

The Queen 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 almost totally on sponges, but with smaller amounts of tunicates, phytoplankton, jellyfish, and hydroids.

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, 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. Offering 2 to 3 feedings a day with only an amount that can be consumed in about 5 minutes.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore – Provide foods that have sponge material and Spirulina in the formula. Offer more vegetable and sponge foods than meaty foods.
  • 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 – Vegetable and sponge material should make up at least 90% of the diet.
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet – Small amounts of meaty foods should 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 180 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: Bi-weekly – Suggested water changes of 10-15 % weekly for a 180 gallon tank, with less needed for larger 250+ gallon tanks and very mature aquariums.

Aquarium Setup

An adult Queen Angelfish will need a tank that is 180 gallons (681 l) or larger. In anything smaller they will abuse their tank mates. Juveniles may be grown out in smaller tanks, but after only a few months their growth will render smaller tank useless. Starting with a larger tank is a good idea rather than having to relocate them, unless you need to give their tankmates time acclimate, as these fish should be added last to a community.

The tank should be mature with live rock that has plenty of naturally growing algae on it before adding the juvenile. They also need plenty of hiding places while young and still adjusting. Two Queen Angelfish can be added to a tank well over 220 gallons (832 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: 180 gal (681 L)
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Live Rock Requirement: Typical Plus Hiding Places – Juveniles need plenty of places to hide.
  • Substrate Type: Any
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting – Angelfish need at least a daylight bulb to help them absorb certain vitamins.
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 82.0° F (22.2 to 27.8&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

The Queen Angelfish are aggressive. 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 eyes of sharks, mistaking them for a large polyped stony coral (LPS)!. It is essential to adding this angelfish into the tank as the last resident, after all other fish are established.

These fish can be kept with some other angelfish if the tank is at least 220 gallons (833 l). They are aggressive to others members of their genus, Holacanthus, but can sometimes be successful kept together if you add two that are of different size. Add the smaller fish first and put up a barrier between the two so the larger angelfish cannot harm the smaller, and observe their behavior. These fish may live in tanks with Pomacanthus angelfish, but again they should be added after Pomacanthus, and as the last resident. Avoid housing them with 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 corals except for possibly the most noxious soft corals from the family Alcyoniidae or the Octocorals, but they should be monitored. Yellow colonial polyps and Zoanthids have 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.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Large Aggressive – Predatory
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Sometimes – Tank must be at least 220 gallons (832 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 – Provide plenty of places to hide if the Queen Angelfish decides to harass these fish.
    • 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 by larger angelfish.
    • 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 – Will nip at appendages.
    • Zoanthids – Button Polyps, Sea Mats: Monitor – Will 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.

Breeding / Reproduction

Breeding Queen Angelfish, to our knowledge, has not been accomplished in captivity. In nature adults are generally found in pairs year round, so it is assumed that the male and the female have a monogamous relationship. Pairs will spawn by slowly rising up in the water column while bringing their bellies close together, and releasing large amounts of eggs and sperm. A female can release anywhere from 25 to 75 thousand eggs each evening. This can total as many as ten million eggs for the duration of the spawning cycle.

The eggs are transparent and pelagic, floating in the water column. The eggs will hatch in 15 to 20 hours. At this point the “pre-larval” angelfish is attached to a large yolk sac, has no functional fins, no eyes, or gut. After about 48 hours the yolk is absorbed during which time the fish develops into true larvae and begins to feed on plankton in the water column. Growth is rapid and 3 to 4 weeks after hatching the fish will reach about 15-20mm and will settle on the bottom.

  • Ease of Breeding: Difficult

Fish Diseases

The Queen 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.


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


 Queen Angelfish (Image Credit: Pedro Lastra, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.0 Generic)