French Angelfish Facts

Scientific Name: Pomacanthus paru

French Angelfish
French Angelfish, Pomacanthus paru, in Chichiriviche de la Costa, Venezuela, Caribbean Sea.

Humberto Ramirez / Getty Images

French angelfish are part of class Osteichthyes and live in coral reefs in the Western Atlantic, from the Bahamas to Brazil and the Gulf of Mexico. Their scientific name, Pomacanthus paru, comes from the Greek words for cover (poma) and spine (akantha) due to their protruding spines. French angelfish are very curious, territorial, and often travel in pairs.

Fast Facts

  • Scientific Name: Pomacanthus paru
  • Common Names: French angelfish, french angel, angelfish
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Basic Animal Group: Fish
  • Distinguishing Characteristics: Black scales with yellow rims in adults and black scales with yellow vertical bands in juveniles
  • Size: 10 to 16 inches
  • Weight: Unknown
  • Life Span: Up to 10 years
  • Diet: Sponges, algae, soft corals, ectoparasites
  • Habitat: Coral reefs in tropical coastal waters
  • Population: Stable
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Fun Fact: Young French angelfish form symbiotic relationships with bigger fish. They remove parasites from other fish species and receive protection in return.


French angelfish have thin bodies with protruding lower jaws, small mouths, and comb-like teeth. They have black scales with a bright yellow rim, and their eyes have yellow at the outer portion of the iris. Juveniles have a dark brown or black body with vertical yellow bands. As they mature, the scales begin to develop yellow rims, while the rest of the body remains black.

French Angelfish
French Angelfish, Pomacanthus paru, in Chichiriviche de la Costa, Venezuela, Caribbean Sea. Humberto Ramirez / Getty Images

These fish commonly swim at depths of 15 feet, traveling in pairs in coral reefs near sponges. They are strongly territorial and will fight with neighboring pairs over areas. Due to their small bodies, French angelfish are able to swim into narrow cracks between corals to hunt and hide from predators. They swim by rowing their pectoral fins, and their long tail fins allow them to turn quickly.

Habitat and Distribution

French angelfish occur in coral reefs, rocky bottoms, grassy flats, and other places that provide coverage in tropical coastal waters. They have been found in the Atlantic Ocean off the coasts of Florida down to Brazil. They also appear in the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, and occasionally off the coast of New York. French angelfish can survive a wide variety of environments due to their salinity tolerance.

Diet and Behavior

Juvenile French Angelfish cleaning the tail of a Bar Jack
Juvenile French Angelfish cleaning the tail of a Bar Jack underwater off the Yucatan peninsula. Alphotographic / Getty Images

Adult angelfish’s diet mostly consists of sponges and algae. Many sponges have a V-shaped pattern due to French angelfish bites. They also eat cnidarians including zoantharians and gorgonians, as well as other aquatic invertebrate animals such as bryozoans and tunicates. Young angelfish eat algae, detritus, and ectoparasites cleaned off other fish. In reef ecosystems, young French angelfish set up “cleaning stations” for a variety of fish clients as a way for them to control parasites. They do so by touching the body of fish clients with their pelvic fins to remove parasites. This specialized function rivals other cleaners like gobies and shrimp. Client fish include jacks, morays, surgeonfish, and snappers, among many others.

Adults form pairs, staying with their mate for life. These pairs search the corals for food during the day and hide from predators at night in cracks in the reefs. Despite being very territorial, adult French angelfish have been known to be very curious towards divers.

Reproduction and Offspring

French angelfish reach sexual maturity when they are around 3 years of age and about 10 inches long. Spawning occurs from April to September. They are nest non-guarders and reproduce in pairs via external fertilization. Unlike other fish that spawn in the open, French angelfish mate exclusively with their partner. The male and female will travel to the surface where they release both eggs and sperm into the water. The eggs are only 0.04 inches in diameter and hatch 15 to 20 hours after fertilization. These eggs develop in plankton beds until they can travel down to the coral reef.

French angelfish and hawksbill turtle
A hawksbill sea turtle feeds on a sponge while two french angelfish look on. Shot at the dive site Tormentos in Cozumel, Mexico. Brent Durand / Getty Images

Conservation Status

French angelfish are designated as Least Concern as assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The organization found the population of French angelfish to be stable because the current collection for aquarium trade does not impact the global population.

French Angelfish and Humans

French angelfish are economically important because juveniles are collected using nets to sell to aquariums and are reared in captivity. Due to their high tolerance to environmental changes, disease resistance, and their curious personalities, French angelfish make ideal aquarium fish. Additionally, they are fished for food locally in some countries like Singapore and Thailand, although there have been reports of ciguatera poisoning. This type of poisoning is caused by eating fish that contain ciguatera toxins.


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Your Citation
Bailey, Regina. "French Angelfish Facts." ThoughtCo, Sep. 16, 2021, Bailey, Regina. (2021, September 16). French Angelfish Facts. Retrieved from Bailey, Regina. "French Angelfish Facts." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 31, 2023).