The Ultimate Clownfish Care Guide

Let’s get more adventurous and get into keeping Clownfish. But before we can do that, we should note that these highly entertaining fellas need a little more care than others we’ve discussed so far simply because they’re saltwater fish.

The Clownfish

Let’s get to know the little funny fish made famous by the 2003 animated film Nemo.

Clownfish are marine fish from the family Pomacentridae. The most common ones grow to about 3 to 4 inches at maturity and live up to 5 years in an aquarium. In the wild, Common Clownfish can live up to 10 years.

Being from the sea, Clownfish need saltwater to survive in an aquarium. This is its main difference from other species we’ve discussed such as Neon Tetras, Guppies, or Cichlids.

Clownfish are reef-safe animals, meaning, they can live harmoniously in an aquarium with corals and invertebrates like Nerite Snails and Marine Crabs.

There are over 30 known species of Clownfish, but the most popular one that people get for their aquarium is the Ocellaris Clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris)— the species of Nemo. The Ocellaris has the familiar orange-white-black stripe combination the species is famously depicted as.

We have listed the general types of Clownfish below with some important information for your reference.

Ocellaris (Common Clownfish/False Percola)Generally peaceful, easy to keep, males grow to 3 inches, females to 4 inchesBlack-white, orange-brown-white, black-orange, brown-white, orange-black-white
True Percola (Orange/Eastern)Generally peaceful temperament, grows up to 3 inches, sensitive to toxinsOrange-white-black, almost fully orange, almost fully black
SkunkGenerally peaceful temperament, grows to 2 to 3 inches in length, sensitive to toxinsLight pink, peach
Pearl Eye Clarkii (Yellowtail)Generally peaceful, easy to keepDark blue with yellow, black-white, orange-white
MaroonSemi-aggressive, biggest type that grows up to 7 inches long, can live up to 7 yearsDeep burgundy or bright red with white or yellowish stripes
TomatoSemi-aggressive, 5 inches long at maturity, can live up to 15 yearsBright red-white stripe, burnt orange-white stripe
Cinnamon (Fire Clownfish)Reaches up to 5 inches in length, semi-aggressive, territorialBurnt orange to black-orange
SaddlebackGenerally peaceful, males are the same size as femalesAlmost fully black, burnt orange-black-white
Allard’s ClownfishSemi-aggressive temperament, reaches up to 5.5 inches, lives from 10 to 20 yearsOrange-dark brown

When choosing your Clownfish, you might prefer the captive-bred ones as these are less aggressive than their wild-caught cousins. The latter would be harder to keep.

How To Care For Clownfish
How To Care For Clownfish

Clownfish shouldn’t be confused with Catfish, which is a type of freshwater fish. And, the Clownfish is more known for its “wobbling” style of swimming rather than the usual darting action we see from other fish. We describe the differences in detail in “Clownfish vs. Catfish: What’s The Difference?” for clarity.

Clownfish Behavior And Groups

Clownfish are very active swimmers with interesting personalities.

All Clownfish are born male. Kept in a group, a single leader, usually the biggest of them is in charge. This alpha becomes the female and lays eggs for the group. If she dies, her mate— which is the dominant male— becomes female and starts laying eggs. Another dominant male will then emerge and mate with her.

As we described in “Do Clownfish Need To Be In Pairs?” and “How Many Clownfish Should Be Kept Together?”, it would be best to take care of at least 2 Clownfish that are already mated. You can take care of just one, but a mated pair would be happier. Clownfish mate for life. Don’t buy two large Clownfish as they might both be females and will end up killing each other.

Other than a pair, a group of 5 juvenile Clownfish of the same species or temperament has also proven to be generally effective as long as you introduce them to the tank together. Otherwise, fights will ensue, especially if there is more than one female in the group.

Clownfish have an ingrained need to host for their security. In this aspect, Anemones are the usual habitat of Clownfish in the sea. This is unique to Clownfish— also known as Anemonefish— because anemone stings are toxic to most sea creatures. Fortunately, Clownfish have a thick layer of fish mucus on its body and are not affected.

Clownfish Hiding in Anemones
Clownfish Hiding in Anemones

However, Clownfish do not need to host anemones to survive in a captive environment. In an aquarium where there is no imminent threat to the Clownfish, it can host other corals (that aren’t as hard to take care of as anemones) or even rocks, ornaments, and fake anemones. You can read about that and more in our article “Do Clownfish Need Anemones?

They show aggression when either this habitat or their dominance in a group is threatened. They also show protectiveness if they’re breeding.

Clownfish are not schooling fish, but it would be harder to take care of different species of Clownfish because of the differences in temperament.

Tank Requirements For The Clownfish

Clownfish are saltwater fish. Therefore, either a reef-ready tank with a sump or an all-in-one saltwater tank is best when taking care of them.

Temperature72 to 78°F (22 to 25°C)
Temperature73 to 80°F (22 to 26°C)
Salinity1.02 to 1.025sg
pH7.8 to 8.4
Hardness8 to 12 dKH
Ammonia0 ppm
Nitrites0 ppm
Nitrates< 20 ppm
Tank size40 gallons minimum for a pair of the smallest type, roughly 15 gallons/additional fish

To achieve the right salinity, use cycled RO/DI water and add the correct marine salt mix available at fish pet stores. Keep a simple hydrometer or salinity meter (refractometer) handy so you can measure the salt from time to time along with a water testing kit. We provide a lot of helpful advice regarding the saltwater setup in “Clownfish Can’t Live In Tap Water. Here’s Why”.

Clownfish Cant Live In Tap Water
Clownfish Cant Live In Tap Water

As with any saltwater setup, the best substrate for Clownfish is one that contains calcium carbonate (dolomite, fine aragonite, or crushed coral). These buffer your pH and keep your salinity stable.

Redundancy is a term you’ll often hear in saltwater setups. It means having a backup to everything in order to maintain your parameters. An example of redundancy is installing a backup heater to prevent mishaps in case your primary heater breaks down (and it will over time).

Another example of redundancy is in filtration. One type of filter for saltwater tanks is a protein skimmer. It’s a device that removes waste and uneaten food, enhances oxygenation, and helps keep the water crystal clear. Although a lot of reefers recommend this device for its many benefits, it isn’t necessary as long as you don’t skip out on your regular water changes. However, it will reduce the amount of cleaning and maintenance you do.

Clownfish are not keen on high flow water so keep a moderate flow enough for lots of surface agitation without overwhelming the fish. But do keep a lid on the tank as they are known to jump.

Instead of plants that cannot survive in saltwater, you can start with rocks so that the fish can have spaces to hide in.

Just keep the parameters consistent and your Clownfish will be happy and healthy.

Clownfish Food

Clownfish aren’t picky when it comes to food. There are so many to choose from and most of these are available in pet stores.

Clownfish are omnivorous and enjoy a diet of meat and vegetables. Clownfish-specific food is available in most pet stores including marine or Clownfish flakes and marine pellets. These fish also eat live or frozen shrimp (Mysis, krill, brine), crustaceans, live or frozen bloodworms, algae, seaweed (nori), spirulina, and boiled vegetables (lettuce, spinach).

They should be fed in moderate amounts twice a day. Any uneaten food should be cleaned up.

Shrimp For Clownish
Shrimp For Clownish

But don’t just give Clownfish anything. Some prepared foods are not exactly compatible with them, such as freshwater fish food. You can read more about the do’s and don’t’s of Clownfish feeding on our post “Can Clownfish Eat Tropical Flakes?” including food that enhances appetite and coloration. 

Tankmates For The Clownfish

The funny thing is that Clownfish are pretty good tank mates except for their kind.

Clownfish can cohabit with Gobies, Tangs, Coral Beauties, Dartfish, and other similar peaceful fish that won’t bother the Clownfish’s territories.

These other species should be relatively smaller in size but not too small.

Tankmate for Clownfish -Yellow Tang
Tankmate for Clownfish -Yellow Tang

If you have more questions on good tank mates for Clownfish, we provide specific answers in our posts “Can Clownfish Live With Puffer Fish?”. Although Clownfish are not high maintenance, their tank mates might require you to add some things in the tank to keep everyone healthy.

If you are interested in learning more about your fish behavior, check out the links below:

Breeding Clownfish

Breeding comes naturally for Clownfish as long as a female develops and bonds with a partner. She matures at about 1.5 years old. At this point, she will become gravid with eggs made obvious by the swelling of her abdomen. The mated pair will then constantly clean rocks and burrow into the sand as they make space for the eggs.

A female Ocellaris Clownfish will lay a clutch of around 300 eggs or more every 15 days, with those eggs hatching 8 to10 days later. There is always the danger of the eggs getting eaten by the parents or other Clownfish if they’re not well-fed. However, the father will tend to the eggs, keeping them clean and eating the unfertilized or infected ones.

Needless to say, not all Clownfish eggs survive, so most hobbyists move them into a breeding tank right after hatching. They will need to be fed live rotifers and baby brine shrimp 24 hours after hatching. Then, you can move on to crushed flakes on day 10.

Ocellaris Clownfish
Ocellaris Clownfish

Ocellaris and Percola can interbreed if kept together.

Common Diseases of the Clownfish

Aside from giving them proper food, clean water is essential to keeping Clownfish healthy.

The most common cause of many diseases of Clownfish is dirty water or sudden changes in water parameters. This lowers their immune system and makes them susceptible to many diseases that are can be parasitic, bacterial, or fungal.

As we mentioned, Clownfish are energetic and constantly moving. So when this changes, it’s a cause for concern unless it’s nighttime and they’re asleep. This, and other possible symptoms of Clownfish diseases and abnormal behavior are what we discuss in “Why Your Clownfish Is Laying On The Bottom?”, “Why Would A Clownfish Swim At The Top Of The Tank?”, and “What To Do If Clownfish Is Swimming Upside Down?”.

To be more specific, there are parasitic diseases such as Brooklynella, flukes, and velvet (gold dust disease) that can infect Clownfish. Symptoms of this problem include swollen gills, flashing, and head twitching.

If you think only freshwater fish suffer from ich, think again. These parasites that show up as white spots on a fish’s body also plague reef fish such as Clownfish but are known as marine ich. Freshwater soaks, copper baths, or formalin-based dips help relieve the symptoms and kill the parasites.

Clownfish Anemonefish
Clownfish Anemonefish

Overfeeding Clownfish may result in constipation. Chronic overfeeding might cause swim bladder disorder where the enlarged stomach pushes the swim bladder of the fish into an abnormal shape and thus altering the way the fish swims. This is when, instead of the usual way the Clownfish swims, it may present a shimmying movement.

Other causes of swim bladder disorder would be stress and bacterial or fungal infections. But it’s easy to avoid, just don’t forget to feed your Clownfish its vegetables.

Because there may be some scuffles between fish here and there, always check your pets for signs of injuries. A fish that’s constantly getting hurt is stressed, will have lower immunity, and will develop other diseases.

The best way to treat a Clownfish from any disease is to isolate it in a hospital tank. There, you can medicate without having to disturb the balance of the community tank.

Conclusion: The Clownfish is a Good Pet

Clownfish are great starter fish for those who want to try keeping a saltwater aquarium. They’re hardy and practically easy to take care of as long as you stick to the basics. Other aspects of Clownfish care will be easy to discover once you’re in the hobby as they will reveal their unique personality to you.

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