The beautiful Scribbled Angelfish, exhalted for its strikingly colors and patterning, is a favorite of aquarists!

The Scribbled Angelfish Chaetodontoplus duboulayi is one of the most attractive of the larger angelfish, which is why they are highly sought after. Its popular common name is derived from a distinctive scrawled or ‘scribbled’ type patterning on a body that is mostly a dark bluish black color. The long and broad dorsal and anal fins are also ‘scribbled’ with dark and light blues. The pale yellow face is followed by a broad blue-black band running through the eye area followed by another broad white and yellow band. Just beneath the dorsal fin is bold horizontal yellow stripe starting narrowly at the front and becoming wider until it reaches the tail, which is also yellow. Another common name it is known by is Duboulayi Angelfish.

These angelfish are regularly exported for large public aquariums, but are more rare in the aquarium trade. They do make great pets though, if provided with plenty of swimming space and plenty of hiding places while young. They will be rather shy at first, possibly not eating food for about a week, but will become bolder as they become comfortable. Once adapted to their new home they will accept a varied diet and in time they will even take food from their owner’s hand and aggressively patrol their tank.

These angelfish are moderately hardy in the proper aquarium and make a good choice for an intermediate aquarist. They occupy all areas of the aquarium. Due to their size and demeanor they need a tank that is least 100 gallons (378 l) with a few hiding places, especially for juveniles and open areas for adults. They are sensitive to poor water quality so keeping nitrates under 20 ppm and the pH between 7.8 and 8.4 is needed to ensure a healthy fish that you can enjoy for well over a decade. In the wild they also prefer areas of very turbid water movement, so providing this in least one area of the tank is suggested. Lighting only needs to be higher in areas where you have soft corals and to encourage algae growth, which is a natural food for them. Feeding them a varied diet of high quality foods will go a long way in keeping them healthy.

Generally this angelfish will do well in a community aquarium, though an established adult can become a bit moody. House it with other peaceful to semi-aggressive fish but not with aggressive dotty backs or other aggressive fish. It can be kept with angelfish from this genus or with angelfish that are not too aggressive or of similar coloring. A pair can be kept if the aquarium is 125 gallons or more and they are introduced at the same time. Holacanthus and Pomacanthus angelfish are too aggressive to be kept as tank mates.

They can be kept in selective reef tanks but hard corals may not fair so well. They will do well In a reef with soft corals like those from the Cladiella, Lemnalia, Lobophytum, and Sinularia genera. Mushroom corals and sea anemones will usually be left alone too. Sea anemones are easily protected by a nosey angelfish if there is a clownfish guarding it. Invertebrates are not typically bothered except for tridacnid clams, scallops, oysters, and tubeworms, and there is a possibility of starfish having their appendages nipped at. Most aquarium snails, shrimp, and crabs should be left alone. Most aquarists agree that a well fed angelfish is a little less destructive.

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

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Pomacanthidae
  • Genus: Chaetodontoplus
  • Species: duboulayi
Scribbled Angelfish – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 100 gal (379 L)
  • Size of fish – inches: 9.8 inches (24.99 cm)
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 82.0° F (22.2 to 27.8&deg C)
  • Range ph: 7.8-8.4
  • Diet Type: Omnivore
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Scribbled Angelfish Chaetodontoplus duboulayi was described by Gunher in 1867. They are found in the Indo-West Pacific from Western Australia, Queensland, the Northern Territory and southward to Lord Howe Island, southern New Guinea, and the Aru Islands of Indonesia. This species is on the IUCN Red List as Least Concern (LC) as it has a wide distribution and large population. Collection for the aquarium trade has no global impact and there are no major threats currently identified. The common name, Scribbled Angelfish, describes the pattern on their body, where the common name, Duboulayi Angelfish, just identifies the species.

They are found on shallow coastal reefs and inner reefs, with areas over rocky or sandy bottoms and very little coral growth. They occur among corals, rocks, sponges, and seawhips in areas with soft bottoms, rubble or open flat bottoms, and sometimes around pier pilings. They enjoy more turbid waters than their cousins and dwell at depths between 3 to 66 feet (1 – 20 m). They are usually seen alone and occasionally in pairs or small groups, typically feeding on tunicates and sponges.

  • Scientific Name: Chaetodontoplus duboulayi
  • Social Grouping: Varies – It can be found alone, in pairs or groups.
  • IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern – A stable population.


The Scribbled Angelfish is a deep bodied, elongated, flat fish with rounded continuous dorsal and anal fins extending along the length of the body, and a rounded caudal fin. They can grow to almost 10 inches (25 cm) in length and have been known to live over 12 years in captivity with proper care.

The name of this fish is derived from the distinctive scrawled or ‘scribbled’ type patterning on a body that is bright blue to dark blue depending on gender. The long and broad dorsal and anal fins are also ‘scribbled’ with dark and light blues, sometimes deep reds. Juveniles have pale brown under the bright blue scribbles of these fins and females have more black in these fins, where males have a more prominent blue appearance.

The yellow face is followed by a broad vertical band that runs through the eye area. This band which is a little wider than the eyes, is brown in juveniles, bright blue in males, and a darker blue to black band in females. This band on the face is connected at the top with a thinner, horizontal, yellow band that extends along the top of the entire body, under the dorsal fin, and then connecting to the yellow tail fin.

Juveniles and females have a slight interruption of this continuous yellow band at the front of the dorsal fin and at the base tail fin where there is brown to black dotting. Males do not have an interruption of this long yellow band that extends all the way to the tailfin.

  • Size of fish – inches: 9.8 inches (24.99 cm)
  • Lifespan: 12 years – This angelfish can have a lifespan of 12 years or more with good care.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

This angelfish is easy to keep if you get a healthy specimen. It is moderately hardy if all tank requirements, foods, and tank mates are properly met. It is a good idea to purchase a larger juvenile or small adult. Large adults have a very hard time adjusting to captivity resulting in a high mortality rate. It will only be comfortable in a very large tank with lots filamentous algae. With their extremely shy nature, the rockwork should be arranged to provide plenty of places to hide when first put into the aquarium.

Though often shy when first acquired, once they become acclimated they are readily maintained and will eat a variety of foods. Thieir desire to emerge is dependent on appropriate tank mates as well, so choose the other inhabitants carefully.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy – This is dependent on proper tank size, water quality, tank mates and appropriate foods.
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate

Foods and Feeding

The Scribbled Angelfish are omnivores, in the wild they eat primarily sponges and tunicates, but will also nibble on macroalgae, coral polyps, and sea whips. Provide a varied diet in the aquarium. It is not uncommon for this genus of angelfish to go about a week without eating anything you have to offer. Try a freshly opened clam or mussel, or live feeder mysis or brine shrimp to initiate a feeding response.

Juveniles often accept dried flakes, frozen prepared diets for sponge and algae eaters, frozen shrimps, and may also feed on tablets. Spinach leaves that have been frozen or steamed are a favorite and products that have Spirulina algae and sponge material added are a good source of nutrition. Algae sheets or Nori contribute to a well-rounded diet. They enjoy chopped clams, squid, fish and shrimp. You can make your own foods with all these ingredients and keep it frozen until use. Feed these fish at least twice or three times everyday.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore – Feed preparations that have sponge and spirulina algae added, specifically for angelfish.
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet – Live foods like brine shrimp can be used to elicit initial feeding response.
  • Vegetable Food: Half of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Half of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day

Aquarium Care

The water quality of the aquarium must be well maintained. Regular water changes that maintain proper water parameters are key in helping to keep this angelfish healthy. It has been reported that many of them become listless, lose their color, and stop feeding if nitrates are too high, so having a protein skimmer is suggested. They need a pH no lower than 7.8, but no higher than 8.4 for best health. Biweekly water changes of 10-15% are fine for juveniles, but large specimens need small but frequent water changes, about 5% weekly,  especially if the tank is not large.

  • Water Changes: Bi-weekly – Water changes of 10-15% bi-weekly are suggested for juveniles, and 5% weekly for adults.

Aquarium Setup

A juvenile can be started in a smaller 60 gallon aquarium, but the adult Scribbled Angelfish needs a minimum tank size of 100 gallon (378 liters) or more. A male and female may be housed together as long as they are introduced at the same time and the tank is larger, 125 gallons (473 liters) or more. To keep with others from the same genus will require a tank over 250 to 300 gallons.

The aquarium needs to be mature with plenty of algae growth on live rock. This fish needs lots of open space for free swimming when adults, and several crevices for juveniles to hide when feeling threatened. In the wild they prefer strong tidal currents so providing an area with swift moving water would be appreciated. Having at least one area of stronger light to produce algae is a good way of providing them a natural source of food.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 100 gal (379 L) – A minimum 60 gallon (227 liters) tank will work for a juvenile but a larger tank, 100 gallon (378 liters) or more, will be needed for an adult.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Live Rock Requirement: Typical Plus Hiding Places
  • Substrate Type: Any
  • Lighting Needs: Any – Stronger lighting helps to encourage natural algae growth for them to feed on.
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 82.0° F (22.2 to 27.8&deg C)
  • Specific gravity: 1.023-1.025 SG
  • Range ph: 7.8-8.4 – A pH lower than 7.8 will start leading to health problems and disease.
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Strong – There should be at least one area of the tank with swift turbulent water.
  • Water Region: All – They will spend time in all parts of the aquarium.

Social Behaviors

This species is one of the less aggressive angelfish and can be kept in a community aquarium. Although shy initially, it will become bolder as it acclimates. Peaceful and non-aggressive fish like cardinalfish, gobies, tilefish, damselfish, butterflyfish, fairy basslets, wrasses, etc. will be good tank mates. Very territorial fishes such as dottybacks and large aggressive fish are not recommended.

Scribbled Angelfish, Chaetodontoplus duboulayi
Photo © Animal-World

The angelfish from the Chaetodontoplus genus are slightly less aggressive than some of the other angelfish, yet the Scribbled Angelfish is probably one of the more aggressive of this genus. Adults are much more aggressive than juveniles. A pair may also be okay together if the aquarium is very large, 125 gallons or more, and there are crevices for retreat, but the pair must be introduced to the aquarium at the same time. Juveniles should be kept alone, even if it is an unsexed pair, and should not be kept with other fish that have the same juvenile patterning as the Scribbled Angelfish. When housing with other Chaetodontoplus and other angelfish, add the least aggressive angelfish first and allow some adjustment time before adding the next, more aggressive angelfish. Even though this angelfish is probably one of the more aggressive species from this genus, larger and territorial angelfishes like PomacanthusHolacanthus are not recommended as tank mates.

These angelfish are not considered 100% reef safe though they may be kept in a selective reef tank set up. Typically they will nip at corals, but there are some soft corals they will usually leave alone. These are from the Cladiella, Lemnalia, Lobophytum, and Sinularia genera, and mushroom corals are also ignored. Sea anemones like Bubble Tip Anemones, Long Tentacle Anemones, etc. are usually left alone as well, but some random individuals may pick at the oral disc. This is due to possibly that the anemone expelling waste and the angelfish perceiving it as something yummy or it could be the food that the anemone just caught. With a very pugnacious clownfish guarding the anemone it may be okay. Invertebrates are not typically bothered except tridacnid clams and tubeworms. Other mainstays like aquarium snails, shrimp, and crabs should be left alone. Still, keep an eye on any item you add.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – In a tank over 125 gallons, a mated male/female pair may be kept if added at the same time. To keep with others of the same genus will take a tank of 250 to 300 gallons with plenty of places to hide, and adding the less aggressive species first.
    • Peaceful fish (gobies, dartfish, assessors, fairy wrasses): Safe
    • Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Safe
    • Monitor – Dottybacks may be too aggressive for the Scribbled Angelfish.
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (tangs, large angels, large wrasses): Safe – Safe with the exception of same sex Scribbled Angelfish who will battle with each other. Do not house with the Holacanthus and Pomacanthus genera of angelfish.
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (lionfish, groupers, soapfish): Threat
    • Threat – Angelfish will easily out-compete these animals for food.
    • Anemones: Monitor – May be okay if there is a pugnacious clownfish guarding the anemone.
    • Mushroom Anemones – Corallimorphs: Safe
    • LPS corals: Threat
    • SPS corals: Threat
    • Gorgonians, Sea Fans: Threat
    • Leather Corals: Safe
    • Soft Corals (xenias, tree corals): Monitor – Should not bother corals from the Lobophytum, Cladilla, Lemnalia, and Sinularia genera.
    • Star Polyps, Organ Pipe Coral: Monitor
    • Zoanthids – Button Polyps, Sea Mats: Monitor
    • Sponges, Tunicates: Threat
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Safe
    • Starfish: Monitor – May nip at appendages.
    • Feather Dusters, Bristle Worms, Flatworms: Monitor – Feather Dusters may be picked at.
    • Clams, Scallops, Oysters: Threat
    • Copepods, Amphipods, Mini Brittle Stars: Safe

Sex: Sexual differences

Scribbled Angelfish start out as females and by 4 to 6 inches in length they will change to male coloration as needed when no males are present. Males are a brighter blue with the body having more prominent and defined horizontal blue scrawling down their sides. Males are also longer in the body and have no interruption of the yellow band that runs from the front, back and into the tail fin. The dark blue patterning on the sides of females consists of more dots and dashes and random scrawling, along with black dots at the base of the tail fin, which interrupts the continuous yellow line along the back.

Breeding / Reproduction

Captive breeding has not yet be accomplished in captivity, but with Scribbled Angelfish freely spawning in captivity the next step shouldn’t be too far away. Chaetodontoplus are protogynous hermaphrodites. They have been observed mating in captivity by Arai in 1994 and Hooki in 1992. Their description is most likely very similar to the spawning behavior of this fish in the wild.

They perform “rapid swimming,” which is a description of their courtship behavior. This behavior starts about an hour before the lights go off and continue about an hour afterwards. Having a dim fluorescent bulb constantly left on will not affect the spawning. At times there can be a second spawning in the same evening.

The males involvement is swimming around the female quickly as he tilts his body to the side. The female soars toward the surface with all other fins spread and erect, with only her dorsal and anal fins fluttering. The males then nuzzles her belly to induce egg release. Once they reach the water surface they swim along with the top, then the female and male will shoot forward quickly and release their gametes, with females releasing 5,000 to 33,000 eggs at once. After the spawn, the male and female swim to the bottom of the aquarium where the male chases the female in a display referred to as the “after chase.” The eggs will hatch about 24 hours later and the larvae will be 1/10th of an inch (2.4 to 2.6 mm) in length.

  • Ease of Breeding: Difficult

Fish Diseases

Although the Scribbled Angelfish is quite hardy, 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 Scribbled Angelfish is occasionally available in stores and online, and is usually quite expensive.