Queen Angelfish Facts

Scientific Name: Holacanthus ciliaris

A Queen Angelfish ((Holacanthus ciliaris) at Pink Beach
A Queen Angelfish ((Holacanthus ciliaris) at Pink Beach off the coast of Bonaire, an island belonging to the Netherlands off Venezuela’s coast in the southern Caribbean. Robert DeWit66 / iStock / Getty Images Plus

The queen angelfish (Holacanthus ciliaris) is one of the most striking fishes found in the western Atlantic coral reefs. Their large flat bodies are of a brilliant blue color with vivid yellow-accented scales and a bright yellow tail. They are often confused with blue angelfish (H. bermudensis), but the queens are distinguished by a navy blue patch located above the eyes at the center of the head, which is freckled with light blue spots and resembles a crown.

Fast Facts: Queen Angelfish

  • Scientific Name: Holacanthus ciliaris 
  • Common Names: Queen Angelfish, Angelfish, Golden Angelfish, Queen Angel, Yellow Angelfish
  • Basic Animal Group: Fish
  • Size: 12–17.8 inches
  • Weight: Up to 3.5 pounds
  • Lifespan: 15 years
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Habitat: Western Atlantic ocean coral reefs, from Bermuda to central Brazil
  • Population: Unknown
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Description

The body of the queen angelfish (Holacanthus ciliaris) is highly compressed and its head is blunt and rounded. It has one long dorsal fin along its top, dorsal and anal fins, and a range of between 9–15 spines and soft rays. Blue and queen angelfish look even more alike as juveniles, and the two species can and do interbreed. Researchers believe that the entire population in Bermuda may consist of hybrid blue and queen angels. 

On average, queen angelfish grow to around 12 inches in length, but they can grow up to 17.8 inches and weigh up to 3.5 pounds. They have small mouths with slender brush-like teeth in a narrow band that can be protruded outward. Although they are primarily blue and yellow, different regional populations sometimes have different color variations, such as occasional gold coloration, and black and orange blotches. Queen angelfish are of the Perciformes order, the Pomacanthidae family, and the Holacanthus genus. 

Queen Angelfish
Colorful Queen Angelfish, Bonaire, Caribbean Netherlands. Terry Moore / Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

Habitat and Distribution

A subtropical island species, queen angelfish are found in coral reefs on coasts or surrounding offshore islands. The queen is most abundant in the Caribbean Sea, but can be found in tropical western Atlantic waters ranging from Bermuda to Brazil and from Panama to the Windward Islands. It occurs at depths between 3.5–230 feet below the surface. 

The fish do not migrate, but they are most active during the day and are most commonly found near the bottom of coral reef habitats, from the nearshore shallows down to the deepest part of the reef where limited light inhibits coral growth. They are predominantly marine but can adapt to different salinities as needed, which is why the species is often seen in marine aquariums. 

Diet and Behavior

Queen angelfish are omnivores, and although they prefer sponges, algae, and bryozoans, they also eat jellyfish, corals, plankton, and tunicates. Apart from the courtship period, they are generally observed moving in pairs or singly year-round: some research suggests they are pair-bonded and monogamous. 

During the juvenile stage (when they are about 1/2 inch long), queen angelfish larvae set up cleaning stations, where larger fish approach and allow the much smaller angelfish larvae to clean them of ectoparasites.

Wueen Angelfish and Hawksbill Turtle, Ntherlands Antilles
Hawksbill sea turtle swimming over coral reef with stove-pipe sponge and a Queen angelfish, Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles, Caribbean, Atlantic Ocean. Georgette Douwma / Photographer's Choice / Getty Images Plus

Reproduction and Offspring 

During the winter courtship periods, queen angelfish are found in larger groups known as harems. These pre-spawning groups are typically made up of a ratio of one male to four females, and the males court the females. Males flaunt their pectoral fins and the females respond by swimming upward. The male uses his snout to make contact with her genital area, and then they touch bellies and swim upward together to a depth of about 60 feet, where the male releases sperm and the female releases eggs into the water column. 

Females can produce anywhere from 25,000 to 75,000 transparent and buoyant eggs during one evening event; and as many as 10 million per spawning cycle. After spawning, there is no further parental involvement. The eggs are fertilized in the water column and then hatch out within 15–20 hours, as larvae lacking working eyes, fins or gut. The larvae live on yolk sacs for 48 hours, after which they have developed enough to begin feeding on plankton. They grow rapidly and after three to four weeks they reach about one-half inch long when they sink to the bottom and live in coral and finger sponge colonies.

Juvenile Queen Angelfish
Juvenile Queen angelfish Holacanthus ciliaris in the Caribbean. Damocean / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Conservation Status 

Queen angelfish are classed as Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. They are used as part of the commercial aquarium trade. They are not typically a food fish, in part because they are associated with the phenomenon of ciguatera poisoning which is caused by fish eating other toxic creatures and keeping a reservoir of toxins which may be passed on to human consumers.  

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