The Shepard’s Pygmy Angel is beautiful, fun, and hardy making it a pleasure to look at and to keep!

The brightly colored Shepard’s Pygmy Angelfish Centropyge shepardi is a delightful dwarf angelfish, reaching just over 4 3/4 inches (12 cm) in length. Its beautiful colorations range from apricot to an orangish red. The common name Mango Angelfish is derived from this vibrant coloration. It usually has some dark stripes on the upper part of the body too, though these can be absent from some and are not so bold on younger fish. Other attractive highlights are the bright blue edges and ends of the dark dorsal and anal fins. This is a relatively peaceful and hardy fish that make a vibrant showpiece in the community saltwater aquarium.

The Shepard’s Pygmy Angel is a more recently discovered species. The first specimens were found in the Western Pacific on coral reefs in the Mariana Islands (east of the Philippines) and Ogasawara (Bonin) Islands south of Japan. Individuals are also occasionally found off the Izu Islands south of Japan. These locations are very far and isolated from civilization, but support abundant populations of this species. They were described by Randall and Yasudain in 1979 and named after their first collector, Mr. John W. Shepard.

This dwarf angelfish is very similar in appearance to the well known Coral BeautyCentropyge bispinosus and the Rusty AngelfishCentropyge ferrugata. Both the Shepard’s Angel and the Rusty are distinguished from the Coral Beauty because they are much more orange and they have a lighter coloring on the dorsal, anal, and caudal fins. These two also lack the Coral Beauty’s bluish color over the head and on the face. To tell these two apart look at the dark stripped patterning on the body. While the Shepard’s has broader stripes the upper half of the body, the Rusty has lines of irregularly shaped black dots across the entire surface.

These dwarf angelfish stand out as an excellent addition to the home aquarium. These attractive fish are generally hardy and willing eaters, making them a great choice for the beginner. They are great foragers that in nature will feed primarily on benthic algae and weeds growing on the rocky surroundings. This keeps them very active moving about picking at the substrate and the rockwork. The best environment is a 55 gallon aquarium or larger, that has plenty of live rock. The rock can then support a natural algae growth and also provide lots of holes and crevices for them to dart into for refuge.

This is one of the less aggressive angelfish, making it an addition that is more likely to behave itself in your tank. They are more peaceful toward docile tank mates when given the proper environment. A tank smaller than 55 gallons is not suggested as they can get aggressive it there are other competing algae eaters. Like most angelfish, they get along with tankmates best when they are only type of dwarf angelfish in the aquarium. However it can be housed with other species of dwarf Angelfish as long as they are all added at the same time. Be careful to only combine angelfish with very distinct color variations. Dwarf angelfish in general, under the right circumstances may spawn in captivity.

The Shepard’s Pygmy Angel seems to adapt to captivity better than most dwarf angelfish.This fish eats readily and gets along with other fish in the same tank. They are easier to care for than other Dwarf Angelfish, and not as hard on corals. With their preference for algae, the likelihood of them going after corals may be low. Only if underfed would they need to eat from the zooxanthellae in the coral tissue, so keeping them well fed may make them one of the best angelfish for a reef.

A unique characteristic of this angelfish is that it has been known to change sex on an “as needed” basis. All Centropyge are born as female, with the larger and more dominant fish becoming male as they mature. But with this pygmy angel there is evidence of sex reversal, where males can also revert back to female. They also hybridize with the Coral Beauty and the Flame AngelfishCentropyge loricula. The common name for these crosses is the False Shepard’s Angelfish.

When choosing a Shepard’s Pygmy Angelfish, look for a specimen that is alert and picking at rocks. Its body should be filled out, have no fin or body damage, and it should be brightly colored. A healthy specimen will also show an initial curiosity about who is approaching its tank, then quickly dart into hiding.

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: Centropyge
  • Species: shepardi
Shepard’s Pygmy Angel – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 55 gal (208 L)
  • Size of fish – inches: 4.7 inches (11.99 cm)
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 82.0° F (22.2 to 27.8&deg C)
  • Range ph: 8.0-8.4
  • Diet Type: Omnivore
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Shepard’s Pygmy Angelfish Centropyge shepardi was described by Randall & Yasuda in 1979. They are found in the Western Pacific, from the Mariana Islands located east of the Philippines, the Ogasawara (Bonin) Islands and occasionally off the Izu Islands, both located south of Japan. Also possibly southwest of Palau.

Some other common names it is known by include Shepard’s Pygmy Angel, Mango Angelfish, Shepard’s Angelfish, Shepard’s Dwarf Angel, and Shepard’s Dwarf Angelfish. The coloring is close to the inside of a mango, so this variation of a common name is probably the most descriptive. But it is more popularly called Shepard’s Angelfish since it was named after its first collector, John. W. Shepard, of the Marine Laboratory of the University of Guam.

In the wild they will spawn with the Coral Beauty Centropyge bispinosus at Guam, and with the Flame Angelfish Centropyge loricula. The common name for these hybrids is the False Shepard’s Angelfish. This species is on the IUCN Red List as Least Concern (LC) as this dwarf angelfish has a large population and wide distribution. Although they are harvested for the pet industry it does not globally impact the populations and there are no major threats currently identified.

These fish are found at depths from 33 to 184 feet (10 – 56 m), occurring either singly or in small groups where one male associates with several smaller females, usually 3 or 4, but up to as many as 7. Interestingly, they are found at greater numbers than other species of Centropyge at depths of 50 feet (15 m). They inhabit exposed outer reef slopes and clear lagoon reefs over areas of mixed dead and living corals. They feed mainly on benthic algae and weeds.

  • Scientific Name: Centropyge shepardi
  • Social Grouping: Harems – They are found solitarily or in harems of one male with 3 to 7 females.
  • IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern – Stable population


The Shepard’s Pygmy Angelfish has an oval body and the shape the dorsal and anal fins are rounded to slightly pointed at the ends. These dwarf angels can grow up to about 4 3/4″ (12 cm) in length. They have been documented with an average lifespan of 5 years in the aquarium, which is a short life for a dwarf angelfish. However it is possible they do live longer, and quite logical that they could due to their ease in care.

These dwarfs have a beautiful coloration with a head and body that are apricot to an almost red, and darkening toward the dorsal fin area. The common name Mango Angelfish is derived from this vibrant coloration. There are brown to black thin, irregular broken vertical stripes adorning their sides. These stripes are confined to the upper part of the body and can be absent in some specimens. On juveniles the stripes are often undeveloped or very fine, and get more defined as the fish grows to adulthood.

Attractive highlights include a dorsal fin trimmed in bright blue at the back outer edges (absent in females). The anal fin has more orange at the front area near the body and two to four bright blue spots on the back edge (less in females). Males also have streaks of bright blue on the dorsal and anal fins, as well as bright blue spots at the back edge of the dorsal fin.The tail fin is yellowish to brown.

Picture of a Shepard's Pygmy Angelfish Shepard’s Pygmy Angelfish Photo © Animal-World: Courtesy David Brough

This dwarf angel is very similar to the Coral Beauty Centropyge bispinosus, but differs in color and anatomical features. The Shepard’s Pygmy Angelfish has 17 pectoral rays, a slightly rounded tail fin and lighter colored median fins. The Coral Beauty has 16 pectoral rays and a strongly rounded tail fin. The Shepard’s also lacks a blue color over the head and on the median fins, and it does not have the blue-edged orange-red spot at the pectoral fin base.

Another dwarf it is similar to is the Rusty Angelfish Centropyge ferrugata. Both are distinguished from the Coral Beauty as they are much more orange with a lighter coloring on the dorsal, anal, and caudal fins. They also lack the Coral Beauty’s bluish head and face color. They are distinguished from one another by the dark stripped patterning on the body, the Shepard’s has broader stripes only on  the upper half of the body while the Rusty has lines of irregularly shaped black dots across the entire surface.

In the wild, the Shepard’s Pygmy Angelfish will spawn with the Flame Angelfish and Coral Beauty. This is what accounts for some of the variation in this fish. In the hobby these hybrids are called False Shepard’s Angelfish.

  • Size of fish – inches: 4.7 inches (11.99 cm)
  • Lifespan: 5 years – Currently a lifespan of 5 years is documented, but they could possibly live longer with good care.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

These dwarf angel fish are easy to moderate to care for. They are good for a beginner to an intermediate aquarist as long as their algal food requirements are met. Although they are easier to care for than other dwarf angelfish, they need plenty of algae crops on live rock. They may not be as inclined to go after corals, but their need for algae seems to be higher than for other dwarfs. They do readily adjust to taking prepared foods as they ‘learn’ to feed with the other fish in the tank.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy – They do best with abundant naturally growing algae in the aquarium.
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner – In a mature tank with plenty of algae, this will be a fish that a beginner can keep.

Foods and Feeding

The Shepard’s Pygmy Angelfish is is an omnivore, though tends to be a lot closer to an herbivore. They are known to eat mostly algae in the wild. Their stomach contents are benthic algae and weeds, so a diet rich in vegetable matter is essential. The only “meaty” foods they ingest may be an occasional copepod who inhabits the algae they consume. They do best in a tank with a good supply of natural algae foods containing copepods, other small edibles, and diatoms.

It is important that you feed angelfish all kinds of live, frozen, and prepared formula foods. In a mature tank, ingesting copepods and other small proteins with the algae they scrape off the rock, could be sufficient. Yet is is still important to feed several times a day even if natural foods are present. Provide a good spirulina formula and offer a little meaty food, like adult artemia (good quality brine shrimp) and mysid shrimp. Watch and see which foods that you are offering are being eaten and change brands/type of foods as needed. There are several good commercial foods available including Formula II and Angel Formula.

They are said to be good at controlling a number of green algae types. These include sea lettuces (green nori) Enteromorpha species (currently regarded as a synonym of Ulva) and Ulva speces; specifically Enteromorpha prolifera, Enteromorpha linza, Enteromorpha intestinalis, Enteromorpha compressa, Ulva rigida (Sea Lettuce), and Ulva lactuca. Others include the green hair algae Derbesia species, specifically Derbesia marina, Derbesia species 2, and Derbesia species 1. These also include the composite algae Boodlea species, and others such as Oscillatoria sp. 2, Oscillatoria sp. 1, Diatoms Stringy Growth, and Diatom Coating.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore – Feeds primarily on algae. Offer a supplement with Spirulina algae and sponge material included.
  • Flake Food: Yes – May or may not take in the beginning. Feed products that have spirulina material added.
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes – May or may not take in the beginning. Feed products that have spirulina material added.
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet – Brine shrimp, mysis shrimp, as well as other protein sources can be offered occasionally.
  • Vegetable Food: Most of Diet – They need about 90% vegetable. May get most of their vegetable from algae growth present in tank.
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet – Can be obtained from copepods and other small crustaceans living in the algae being eaten.
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day – Feed several times a day even if natural foods are present, but less often in tanks over 75 gallons. Juveniles should be fed up to 4 times a day.

Aquarium Care

Water changes should be performed a little more often with this fish due to the need for them to have clean water conditions with lower nitrates. Judge water changes accordingly to your tank size and water quality. The larger the tank, the better the quality and the less often water changes are needed. In smaller tanks of 55 gallons a 10% bi-weekly water change is usually necessary. For larger tanks typically do 30% a month, 20% every 2 weeks, or 5% a week. Keep water at 8.0 pH.

  • Water Changes: Bi-weekly – A bi-weekly water change of 10% is suggested.for tanks under 75 gallons, and for larger tanks a 30% change monthly.

Aquarium Setup

A mature tank that is 55 gallons, and without other algae eating fish to compete with it for food, is the minimum size suggested for its optimal health. The bio-load is  larger with this fish, which can cause the water to foul quickly. Thus a tank that is 75 to 100 gallons provides more food and cleaner water. Housing these fish in a smaller tank, like 30 gallons, is not advisable as this size will have less natural foods for this constant grazer. Also tanks less than 55 gallons can result in territorial and aggressive behavior.

Like all dwarf angelfish, they like to have lots of rubble type areas to pick natural foods from and larger rock work to hide in to feel secure. It is best to introduce the Shepard’s Pygmy Angelfish as the last inhabitant into a suitable, mature tank.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 55 gal (208 L) – The suggested tank size is a minimum of 55 gallons for a single Shepard’s Angelfish, 75 to 100 gallons (283 to 378 l) for a pair, and add 20 gallons per each additional dwarf angel.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Live Rock Requirement: Typical Plus Hiding Places – Being a natural food for predatory fish, they feel most comfortable with lots of places to hide. Live rock will also allow for plenty of algae growth.
  • Substrate Type: Any – They do well with a “rubble” type substrate that can facilitate algae growth.
  • Lighting Needs: Any – Lighting should be strong enough to support algae growth. If tank has low lighting, making sure direct sunlight hits the tank to support this natural food is suggested.
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 82.0° F (22.2 to 27.8&deg C)
  • Breeding Temperature: 77.0° F – To encourage spawning in dwarf angelfish, have temperatures between 80 to 82˚F (27-28˚C). At a temperature of 77° F hatching is 16 hours after spawning. Longer if water is cooler.
  • Specific gravity: 1.023-1.026 SG – Angelfish do not do well in lower salinity for extended periods of time. (several months)
  • Range ph: 8.0-8.4 – Angelfish start to deteriorate when pH is lower than 8.0.
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Any – They like some areas of strong and weak movement. Along the bottom while feeding, a weaker movement would be appreciated so they are not “blown away” while they eat.
  • Water Region: Middle – They will also inhabit mid level areas of the tank.

Social Behaviors

The Shepard’s Pygmy Angelfish is peaceful under the correct circumstances. Unlike other dwarfs, if given appropriate space, more peaceful fish should not be harassed, but monitoring is still suggested. As with all Centropyge, if housed in a smaller tank they will become aggressive. Avoid tankmates that are competing algae eaters.

Keep them as the only dwarf angelfish for the best result. They do not get along with other dwarf angels unless the tank is well over 100 gallons and there are plenty of hiding places for both and plenty to eat. A male and female pair can work in a 75 to 100 gallon tank. Making 2 separate “reefs” in a longer tank helps to “divide the line” so to speak. This angelfish is one of the least likely of all dwarf angels to bother corals when housed in larger tanks. Due to the foods found in stomachs of wild caught specimens, it seems coral consumption may not be an issue if they are well fed.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Peaceful – They can be peaceful as long as tank size is over 55 gallons and not over crowded or occupied with other algae eaters.
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Sometimes – A male/Female pair can be kept in a tank over 75 gallons (284 l), and two males in a tank over 100 gallons.
    • Peaceful fish (gobies, dartfish, assessors, fairy wrasses): Safe – Safe In tanks of 55 gallons or more that are not overcrowded and not with competing algae eaters.
    • Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Safe
    • Monitor – Make sure aggressive tank mates are not keeping your dwarf angelfish from coming out and eating.
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (tangs, large angels, large wrasses): Monitor – Make sure semi-aggressive tank mates are not keeping your dwarf angelfish from coming out and eating.
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (lionfish, groupers, soapfish): Threat – Dwarf angelfish are at risk with large fish that can fit them into their mouths.
    • Threat – Dwarf Angelfish will out compete slow eaters, possibly leading to the tankmates starvation.
    • Anemones: Monitor – May be safe if the anemone has a clownfish or a pair of clowns to protect it.
    • Mushroom Anemones – Corallimorphs: Safe
    • LPS corals: Monitor – They are largely an algae eater so may or may not pick at the slime on these corals. They are most likely to ignore most corals, just keep an eye on the fish
    • SPS corals: Monitor – They are largely an algae eater so may or may not pick at the slime on these corals. They are most likely to ignore most corals, just keep an eye on the fish
    • Gorgonians, Sea Fans: Monitor – Should not bother them, but the “polyps” can be enticing if the fish is not well fed.
    • Leather Corals: Safe
    • Soft Corals (xenias, tree corals): Monitor – May pick at appendages.
    • Star Polyps, Organ Pipe Coral: Monitor – Safe with most from the Effatounaria genus, but still monitor for individual preferences.
    • Zoanthids – Button Polyps, Sea Mats: Monitor – May pick at polyps if not well fed.
    • Sponges, Tunicates: Monitor
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Safe – Will not bother small shrimp.
    • Starfish: Safe
    • Feather Dusters, Bristle Worms, Flatworms: Monitor – May pick at appendages if fish is not well fed.
    • Clams, Scallops, Oysters: Threat – May pick at the mantles of clams. They may graze on the slime they exude preventing them from opening fully, which can cause eventual death of the clam.
    • Copepods, Amphipods, Mini Brittle Stars: Safe – Will ingest too few copepods to make an impact on their population.

Sex: Sexual differences

Male is larger with blue patch behind their gill plates as well as blue edging and/or dots on the back of both the anal and dorsal fins. Obtaining a pair can be as easy as getting a large and small specimen. Monitor for aggression until one changes sex within a month or two. According to Dr. John E, Randall and Dr. Fujio Yasuda, the discoverers of this species, there is evidence of sex reversal in this fish.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Shepard’s Pygmy Angelfish are broadcast spawners, releasing eggs and sperm simultaneously. The eggs will hatch in just under a day, then within 2 to 3 days they need microscopic algae for their very small mouths. Obviously, this is where raising any dwarf angelfish becomes difficult. These fish are not being bred in captivity at this time.

The Shepard’s Pygmy Angelfish has spawned in captivity. This is based on an observation in 1992. Sadly the facility in which the experiment was being done was destroyed by a Typhoon, but some action was documented. The breeder captured one male with 4 females near Cocos Barrier reef, although it was stated that the 4 females were not from same harem. Spawning started in the early evening (dusk) in open water. This was in September, so spawning for these Centropyge angelfish seems to be similar to other species observed in the wild. Females were pushed and chased until both sexes released egg and sperm in horizontal positions. The tank had mirrored sides to prevent male from being too aggressive on females, since seeing “another” male was keeping him occupied and his attention off pestering the females. Lighting was 14 hours on with 2 hour dimmer. No special temperatures were noted.

Although this information is limited, it is fascinating and gives us a glimpse into the possibility of tank bred Centropyge . Since they will spawn with Coral Beauties and Flame Angelfish, color variations may be available in any future successful captive bred specimens.

  • Ease of Breeding: Difficult – Though they will spawn readily and with 2 other species, they have very small mouths, and the larvae are very hard to feed.

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 Shepard’s Pygmy Angelfish is not as commonly available as other dwarf angelfish, and has a moderate to high price range.