News / Species Spotlight / Midnight Angelfish (Centropyge nox) (02/21/18)

Midnight Angelfish (Centropyge nox)

Species Spotlight - Midnight Angelfish (Centropyge nox)
We associate coral reef fishes with an abundance of color. The sunny yellows of the Yellow Tang... the fiery reds of the Flame Angelfish... the vibrant purples of the Strawberry Dottyback or the vivid blues of the Hepatus Tang. On the other hand, theres the Midnight Angelfish, whose rich, saturated blacks make it the very antithesis of all that is colorful. Its inky facade is an affront to the rainbow-hued splendor we expect from an angelfish, but it is no less beautiful for this.

Youll find Centropyge nox across the West Pacific, from Japan to Australia and Vanuatu. Until recently, it was thought to occur a bit further east still, in Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, but study showed this Melanesian population to be distinct in its morphology and genetics. So, in 2012, that fish was recognized as Centropyge deborae. Both are dark and enigmatic pomacanthids, with Deborahs Angelfish being a bit bluer in composition. Though, for purists, only the featureless black of the Midnight nox will do.

Few fish can match its mournful color scheme, but, remarkably, there is a dottyback from New Guinea which has seemingly taken to mimicking it perfectly, in both looks and behavior. The appropriately named Midnight Dottyback (Manonichthys paranox) swims in a jerky, angelfish-like manner, with its large, darkened pectoral fins flapping prominently. And it lives in the same sort of cryptic habitats as its pomacanthid namesake. This has led to the suspicion that the dottyback is gaining some advantage from imitating C. nox. Perhaps it is better able to sneak up on its prey by resembling the harmless, spongivorous angelfish. Alternatively, it has been suggested that Centropyge are avoided by many predators due to their strong opercular spine and elusive nature.

Or maybe these are just two black fishes which happen to look alike. Nobody would suggest a Yellow Tang is mimicking a Lemonpeel Angelfish, afterall. Youll probably have to ask the fish themselves to sort this mystery out.

As for aquarium care, there is no major difference in keeping this black dwarf angelfish compared to any of its more chromatically well-endowed cousins. Fully grown specimens top out at just four inches, making them ideal for mid-sized systems. Though largely reef safe, they are prone to picking on those deliciously fleshy LPS corals. A diet high in algae and sponge is recommended. And, of course, be sure to provide plenty of rock for this fish to swim in and out of. Part of the fun in keeping the Midnight Angelfish is searching for it among all those dark recesses that it so effortlessly blends into.