Angelfishes are a family of fish with roughly 80 species, with five present in the Hawaiian Islands. Their vibrant colors make them a favorite among divers and snorkelers and a popular aquarium fish. Many species of angelfish are protogynous hermaphrodites, meaning while their life may begin as female, they later change to male. This transformation is sometimes indicated by color pattern change. Once classified as a close relative of butterflyfish, they are now characterized in its own distinct family.
Most species of angelfish reside in coral reef settings, rarely venture from cover, and are quite territorial. Some bold species such as the bandit angelfish have been observed swimming in open ocean areas. Angelfish aren’t commonly seen by snorkelers, and many times are missed by divers. Distribution and range depend on the species, and many reside in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Of the five angelfish species who call Hawaiian waters home, four are endemic.
Angelfish have distinguished small mouths and brushlike teeth, and larger species of this fish feed primarily on sponges, although their diet can vary from algae to zooplankton. Due to them being territorial, similar species don’t do well if placed together and tend to do better when introduced with mated pairs. These beautiful yet rare fish are a delight when encountered by snorkelers and divers in the Hawaiian Islands.
*Due to the constant rotation of animals back to the ocean, we cannot guarantee the presence of any specific animal.
A unique backward-pointing spine on the gill cover clearly distinguishes angelfish from butterflyfish. Their scientific name combines poma meaning “cheek,” and acanthus meaning “spine.”