The moniker angelfish is a misnomer in the case of the queen angelfish (Holacanthus ciliaris) — this fish is often anything but angelic. The queen angelfish has a tendency to punish other fish that it sees as a food competitor, or sometimes it usurps the entire aquarium for itself just because it can! Even so, its beauty is so arresting it is worth putting up with the bad attitude of a Holacanthus ciliaris.
Difficulty: The queen angelfish is not only royal, it is quite hardy. The key is to acquire juvenile queen angelfish that are the size of a half-dollar or larger (smaller fish tend to be a bit more sensitive, although not impossible to care for) and feed them a varied diet that includes frozen foods, such as mysid shrimp, frozen preparations for herbivores and finely chopped seafood. Also make sure the queen angelfish gets enough to eat. This means feeding it at least once or twice a day in an aquarium full of live rock and algae, and more frequently than that in a more sterile fish-only aquarium.
Physical description: The adult queen angelfish gets its name from the blue rimmed crown perched on its head. The blue encircles a black center, studded with blue jewel-like spots. The “standard” queen angelfish is green overall with yellow highlights on the scales (the amount of green or yellow coloration can vary between individuals). The tail is always bright yellow. There are populations of queen angelfish from St. Paul Rocks and the islands off Brazil that have a koi-like coloration (i.e., white with patches of orange and black). There are also unusual individuals reported from Brazil that that are bluish with a white tail. Juvenile Holacanthus ciliaris are olive over much of the body, with a yellow chest and head. There are three blue body bars that are slightly curved backwards. The blue angelfish (Holacanthus bermudensis) is a very similar species that is grayish green overall with yellow edges on the dorsal, anal and caudal fins. It differs from the queen angelfish by lacking a well-developed crown and having a gray tail with spotting rather than a yellow tail. The juveniles of the two species are alike in chromatic characteristics, but the mid-body bar is straight in Holacanthus bermudensis rather than curved, as in Holacanthus ciliaris. The blue angelfish also tends to have white body bars. The blue and queen angelfish sometimes get together and produce little mutt angelfish. These hybrids usually share characteristics of both species and were once thought of as a distinct species, which was named Holacanthus townsendi. The queen angelfish reaches an impressive 17.5 inches in length.
Range: The queen angelfish rules the tropical sea of the western Atlantic and strays east to St. Paul Rocks in the eastern Atlantic. In the Western Atlantic the queen angelfish is found as far north as Bermuda and the Gulf of Mexico and as far south as Brazil. (The closely related blue angelfish is found from Bermuda and North Carolina to Mexico, including the Gulf of Mexico). The queen angelfish is found on reef faces and slopes, and cover a large area when going about its daily activities. It forms pairs or a male may also have a harem of up to four females — the females hang out in the male’s larger territory. Juvenile queen angelfish will sometimes clean other fish.
Compatibility: When it comes to the aquarium pecking order, the queen angelfish is almost always sitting atop the throne! It can chase and bite other angelfish, butterflyfish and triggerfish. Even in larger aquariums, the adult Holacanthus ciliaris may take out its wrath on other angelfish. The queen angelfish may also attack on benthic fish, such as stingrays, frogfish and scorpionfish. The queen angelfish will persistently nips at these more sedentary species, damaging the integument. Keep one queen angelfish per aquarium and do not mix-it with others in the genus Holacanthus. The queen angelfish can be housed in extra-large reef aquariums if you are willing to take some risks. It may nip at large-polyped stony corals and tridacnid clam mantles. The queen angelfish is best housed with soft coral species, such as Sinularia, Litophyton and Nephthea. This species is rarely a threat to motile invertebrates (e.g., shrimp, crabs, sea stars, urchins).
Aquarium conditions: The full-grown adult queen angelfish will need to be housed in a 180-gallon aquarium or larger. Hiding places are required to facilitate acclimation. Acceptable water parameters for the queen angelfish are: pH of 8.1 to 8.4, specific gravity of 1.019 to 1.025 and a water temperature of 73 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit.
Care considerations: Space is the key to keeping the queen angelfish. While it may be a bit shy initially, the queen angelfish will become very bold and showy, coming out to greet its keeper once used to their new abode.
Breeding: The queen angelfish is not likely to spawn in the home aquarium because of its large size at maturity.