Angelfishes are a family of fish of roughly 80 species; five of occur in the Hawaiian Islands. Their vibrant colors make them a favorite of divers and snorkelers when observed, as well as a popular aquarium fish. Many species of angelfish are protogynous hermaphrodites where mature life begins as females later changing into males, sometimes indicated by color pattern change. Once classified as a close relative of butterflyfish, it is now characterized in its own distinct family. A unique backward-pointing spine on the gill cover clearly distinguishes Angelfish from Butterflyfish. Hence their scientific name combines poma meaning “cheek” and acanthus meaning “spine”.
Most species of Angelfish reside in coral reef settings, rarely venturing from cover and are territorial. Some bold species like the Bandit Angelfish has been observed swimming in open ocean areas. Angelfish aren’t as commonly seen by snorkelers and many times missed by divers. Distribution and range depends on the species, many largely residing in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Of the 5 residing Angelfish species in the Hawaiian Islands, 4 of them are endemic to Hawaiian waters, making them a unique species if encountered.
Larger species of Angelfish will primarily feed on sponges but their diet varies from algae to even zooplankton. They have a distinguished small mouth and brushlike teeth. Due to them being territorial, similar species don’t tend to do well if placed together. Sometimes they do better when introduced with mated pairs. These beautiful yet rare fish are a delight when encountered here by snorkelers and divers in the Hawaiian Islands.
*Due to the constant rotation of animals back to the ocean, the presence of any specific animal cannot be guaranteed.