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Angelfishes, family Pomacanthidae, might be said to be the "classic" tropical reef fish.  Bright, colorful, pleasingly oval shaped and ubiquitous these fish (and the closely related Butterflyfish) are probably the first to catch the eye of a snorkeler in tropical waters.

How do you tell an angelfish from a butterflyfish?  Although Angelfish and Butterflyfish  (family Chaetodontidae) are closely related -- in fact they were once classified in the same family -- they do have marked differences.  Both families have species that are laterally compressed (i.e. they look skinny when seen from the top or head or tail), and generally oval shaped.  Angelfishes are larger, somewhat more secretive then their smaller butterfly cousins.  They are mainly herbivores and feed on algae and sponges.  Adults of both families tend to live alone or in pairs.  Angelfish can be told from the butterflyfish by their more robust bodies and (if you can get close enough for a good look) the presence of a sharp spine below their gill covers.  Butterflyfish are mainly white, yellow and black, whereas many of the angelfish have a lot of blue.  The best way to tell them apart is to study the guides and get to know them, so as you snorkel or dive you can mentally recite their names!

The location in parentheses tells where the shot was taken.  Most information was taken from Reef Fish Identification: Tropical Pacific by Allen, Steene, Humann, and Deloach and Reef Fish of the Maldives by Dr. Charles Anderson (now out of print).  For more on the books we use, click here.  Photos copyrighted Hackingfamily.com, with credits mostly to Christopher Hacking.

LemonPeel AngelFish
The Lemonpeel Angelfish Centropyge flavissimus makes a bright splash of yellow on the French Polynesian reefs.  The blue edge on the gill-cover distinguishes it from the Mimic Surgeonfish.  These fish are often in harems in and around coral heads.  (Moorea, Fr. Polynesia)
The Regal Angelfish is a favorite for divers and snorkelers.
One of the most dramatic reef fishes is the Regal Angelfish Pygoplites diacanthus.  It attains lengths of up to 10 inches, and feeds on sponges and tunicates.  Its range extends from the Red Sea and E. Africa to Polynesia.  (Fr. Polynesia)
The Vermiculated Angelfish Chaetondontoplus mesoleucus was a new one for us when we saw it on the reefs off Pink Beach, Komodo Island.  Like most other angelfish it has unmistakable patterns to its colors: yellow face and tail, a black racoon band over the eyes, and white fading to black body.  Its range extends from Indonesia to the Philippines and from S.W. Japan to N. Australia (Indonesia) Vermiculated Angelfish, Komodo National Park, Indonesia
TheSix-Banded Angelfish foraging I'm sorry we don't have a good face shot of this guy, but the dark bars clearly show this to be the Six-Banded Angelfish Pomacanthus sexstriatus.  The white bar on the face (just visible) is right behind the eye, and the rest of the face is dark blue.  Dorsal, anal and tail fins are blue-spotted, though the dorsal is more tan or yellow.  They're solitary or in pairs on coastal, lagoon, and outer reefs.  (Komodo NP, Indonesia) Photo by Amanda Hacking.
Slow and stately, the Emperor Angelfish Pomacanthus imperator wins its common name as it moves leisurely amongst the coral heads and overhanging plate corals in search of food.  This beautiful fish with the blue face, yellow tail fins and distinctive yellow and blue stripes is found from the Red Sea to French Polynesia.  It makes a loud drumming sound when alarmed, something we have never heard.  Perhaps we're doing something right when we move in quietly for a photo!
(Komodo NP, Indonesia) Photo by Amanda Hacking
The beauitful Emperor Angelfish

Keyhole Angelfish appearing black instead of blue
We saw the Keyhole Angelfish Centropyge tibicen on the reef at Dumbea Pass in New Caledonia. This lovely fish is actually dark blue, but light plays funny tricks. At least the yellow anal fin is clear, as is the white "keyhole" mark. (Sue Hacking)
Bicolor Angelfish, Fiji
Dramatically obvious on the reefs of Tonga, Fiji, New Caledonia and Indonesia is the lovely Bicolor Angelfish Centropyge bicolor. With its bright yellow head and tail, deep blue body and blue forehead blotch it is unmistakable. It grows to about 15 cm (6 inches) and may be solitary, in pairs or small groups. (Fiji) Photo by Chris Hacking

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