News / Species Spotlight / Look-A-Likes - 3 Stripe and Tuxedo Damsels (02/26/14)

Look-A-Likes - 3 Stripe and Tuxedo Damsels

Both these damselfish are a popular fish in the marine aquarium hobby, and with good reason. They are very active, very hardy and give an unparalleled level of activity to just about any aquarium. Both of these fish come from similar ranges, and similar environments. When it comes down to choosing which one you want, does it matter? Aren't they both just damselfish with 3 stripes?

Tuxedo Damsel (Chrysiptera tricincta)

Adults of this species can be found at depths between 30 and 130 feet, generally around substantial structure surrounded by sandy areas. While they are generally found singly, they develop distinct pairs during breeding. Eggs are attached to substrate, and the male stays to guard them. There are some reports of them being found in small aggregations, but many believe this to be a case of mistaken identification as that behavior is commonly seen with Dascyllus aruanus.

Tuxedo damselfish, and in particular females, are some of the more docile damselfish available in the hobby. Males of this species tend to be larger, but by a small margin, reaching a maximum size of about 2.5 inches in the wild. Females tend to be smaller, but more plump. For the hobbyist who is looking to add just one damselfish to their aquarium, these characteristics make this a great choice.

A third "Look-A-Like," Chrysiperta kuiteri, looks nearly identical, but is almost never seen in the trade. It has an all white pectoral fin, where the Tuxedo Damsel will have a white leading edge and a black tailing edge

3 Stripe Damsel (Dascyllus aruanus)

Dascyllus aruanus is a shallow water species, generally being found in lagoons and reef flats less than 30 feet deep. Nearly always found in small haremic groupings of up to around 25 fish. These harems change in percentages of females to males based on the size of the group, and the size of the group is dependent on the size of the coral head they reside in.

This coral head is aggressively defended, against other damsels and other fish. D. aruanus have also been documented defending a coral head against Crown of Thorns Starfish, by biting chunks out of them, breaking off spines and feet. 3 Stripes will almost never move more than a yard from their home coral. Their tendency to eat filamentous hair algae also means they keep their host coral free of competitive algal growth.

These very hardy fish are commonly called 3 Stripe Damsels, but also Humbug Damsel and Whitetail Dascyllus. They have a maximum size of just over 3 inches. The closer they get to this size, the more aggressive they are. In captivity, they can be kept in the same large groups, but care should be taken to offer them substantial cover to defend, and any potential tankmates should be aggressive and tough enough to make it in an aquarium full of these.

Who's Who?

The Tuxedo Damsel is also often called the 3 Stripe Damselfish, and this is the root of the confusion between these two species. Other than that they are fairly easy to tell apart. Tuxedo's (like the rest of the fish the Chrysipera genus) have a more elongate shape than the 3 Stripe damsel, who are more disc shaped. Tuxedo damsels generally have a totally white face a bronze band on their tail as well. 3 Stripe damsels only have a white nose, with the rest of their face being black. 3 Stripes also have a clear tail.

So which one do you want? Well, that depends on what you want out of your display. If you want to add one stark black and white fish to a smaller display or a display with many other fish, the Tuxedo Damsel is your choice. If you want to add a group of fish to a large tank, the 3 Stripe Damsel is your fish.

Scott W. Michael, Damselfishes & Anemonefishes, 1st ed. (T.F.H. Publications Inc, New Jersey, 2008).
Matthew L Wittenrich, Breeders Guide to Marine Aquarium Fishes, 1st ed. (T.F.H. Publications Inc, New Jersey, 2007).
Rudie H Kuiter & Helmut Debelius, World Atlas of Marine Fishes, 1st ed. (IKAN-Unterwasserarchiv 2006)
In House Resources: Adam Mangino, Eli Fleishauer