News / Species Spotlight / Popular Piscenes - Queen Angels (11/04/14)

Popular Piscenes - Queen Angels

In the Wild

The Queen Angel (Holacanthus ciliaris) is only found in the Western Atlantic, from Brazil to Florida and throughout the Caribbean. They range from just subsurface down to 250 feet or so. Juvenile specimens are found singly, while adults are found singly, in pairs and in loosely associated harems. The harems consist of three or four females spread over the territory of one male.

This fish goes through a dramatic color change over the course of its life. Adults also display a some very interesting regional color variation; some brilliantly yellow with bluer margins, others more predominantly blue/purple with yellow highlights and tails (see graphic below.) Some extreme aberrant patterns show up on fish from very remote populations. Queens also commonly hybridize with Blue Angels, making for even more stunning combinations of gene expression.

A result of one scientific study looked at the stomach contents of 26 wild Holacanthus ciliaris specimens and indicated that the species feeds almost exclusively on sponges supplemented by small amounts of algae, tunicates, hydroids and bryozoans. Juveniles are also known to act as cleanerfish, picking parasites from other fishes.

The record size Queen is just shy of 18 inches long and 3.5 lbs, a size which means it does get harvested as a food fish, though there are some reports of ciguatera poisoning from eating it.

In the Aquarium

Holacanthus is likely the hardiest genus of angelfish, and inside this genus, Queen Angels (along with Blue Angels) are probably the hardiest angels of this grouping. While larger specimens can be sensitive to shipping stresses, once acclimated they do quite well in home aquariums, the one caveat being that when kept in smaller aquariums, they can be prone to developing lymphocytes.

Queen Angels are notorious for quickly taking a wide variety of foods. A large portion of their food should contain sponges and marine based vegetable matter to help them maintain the stunning coloration and give their immune system a boost. They should also be offered a protein dense pellet and a meaty mix. Because they are a grazing fish, they do best with multiple small feedings a day. This grazing lifestyle also means they are likely to consume many of your desirable inverts, with the notable exception of ornamental shrimps. Like many other angels, they exhibit slow growth, (unless overfed) and they frequently stay much smaller than full adult size in captivity.

The catch with H. ciliaris is aggression. Even juvenile specimens can be bullies, especially with other Angels. They have been known to pick on and harass rays, sharks and even venomous sedentary fishes. Choose aquarium tankmates appropriately. Larger, more aggressive fish are better choices. With smaller fish, ensure that they have plenty of rocks to escape into. The bigger an aquarium is, the better for this fish, as larger tanks allow for grow out and reduce / curb bullying tendencies.

All this being said, these fish are gorgeous, hardy, active and "personable;" they will come to recognize feeders quickly and seem to engage them. Just give them a big tank with other suitable fish and they'll be great additions to your aquarium for a long time.

Look-A-Likes - Blue Angelfish

So you want a Queen Angel, but can't find one? Think about a Blue Angelfish (image on bottom right). Strangely, Blue Angels have two accepted scientific names. WORMS and EOL indicate that both Holacanthus bermudensis and Holacanthus isabelita are listed accepted designations.

The range of Blue Angels is entirely contained by the range of the Queen angel. Hybrids between the two are not uncommon, adding even more mystery to some of the unique colorations seen. They also come from the same depths, get to roughly the same size and pretty much inhabit the same ecological niche.

They are also stunningly similar as far as captive husbandry goes. They are similarly sensitive to shipping, but very hardy afterwards. Smaller specimens generally acclimate more quickly. They are generally easy to feed and willing to take a variety of foods. The two species have similar aggressive tendencies, especially with other angels.

Blues can be differentiated from Queens as adults because most of them lack a "crown" just above the eyes and blues have a half yellow tail, whereas the caudal fin on the Queen is solid yellow. These two species look incredibly similar as juveniles, but the light blue / white vertical barring is nearly straight on the Blue Angel (on left, top image) and more curved on the Queen (on left, bottom fish). Further increasing the difficulty of identification is that all of these differences can be blended in varying degrees in the commonly seen hybrids. The Blue/Queen hybrid was once considered a separate species called Holacanthus townsendi. They hybrids are sometimes still sold as "Townsend's Angelfish."

Allen, Steene, Allen, A guide to Angelfishes & Butterflyfishes, 1st ed. (Odyssey Publishing/Tropical Reef Research. Publications Inc, Australia, 1998).
Debelius, Tanaka, Kuiter, Angelfishes, 1st ed. (TMC Publishing, Chorelywood, UK, 2003).
Scott W. Michael, Angelfishes & Butterflyfishes, 1st ed. (T.F.H. Publications Inc, New Jersey, 2004).
World Register of Marine Species (WORMS)
Encyclopedia Of Life (EOL)
In House References:
Eli Fleishauer, Adam Mangino, Brent Robinson