Story Behind the Science
Tropical marine reefs offer a very diverse habitat for a variety of tropical fish species, including the stunning angelfish. These fish can be seen in many different colors, shapes and sizes, making them both unique within the ocean and often rare commodities with fish collectors.
The queen angelfish, often noted as the most beautiful fish in the ocean, is just one of the many kinds of angelfish found throughout the oceans and seas. Some angelfish, like the queen, are shy but still a bit curious of nearby divers. Because queen angelfish are so beautiful, they aren’t usually captured for food but for display in aquariums. Others, like the gray angelfish, are more often hunted for consumption.
One of the biggest threats for many tropical fish is the aquarium trade, which mostly affects fish that are considered “ornamental.” These ornamental fish are collected because of their color, size or rare status. For example, the rare red-and-white-striped peppermint angelfish depicted in the video below is worth an estimated $30,000. In Hawaii, millions of ornamental fish are collected each year, but it is suspected that less than 50 percent of these animals are properly documented. The amount of filed collection reports are estimated to be two to five times less than the number of fish actually captured.
Regardless of whether a fish is considered ornamental, all fish play a crucial role in marine ecosystems. By capturing a large quantity of any species for the sake of fish hobbyists’ collections, the fish’s natural environment is disturbed. Some negative effects of aquarium trade include destroying marine habitat, altering the ecosystem’s food chain and potential reproductive failure. There are rules in place that forbid the use of destructive methods for acquiring ornamental species, however, those rules are often disregarded in aquarium trade.
Some places that are home to many ornamental fish endangered by the aquarium trade include Hawaii, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Haiti and the Solomon Islands.
Did You Know?
- Some angelfish have a protrudable jaw, an extra joint in their lower jaw and an extra set of teeth. These traits allow angelfish to prey on foods that are inaccessible to other fish.Learn More »
- A group of angelfish is called a school.Learn More »
- All species of marine animals collected for aquarium trade are crucial to the survival of their natural ecosystems.Learn More »
|Compare & Contrast||Marine Angelfish||Freshwater Angelfish|
|How many species?||Approximately 87||3|
|Where do they occur?||Marine angelfish usually live in coral reef habitats throughout the Western Atlantic, Eastern Central Atlantic and marine environments of South America. They are most common in the Caribbean Sea.||Freshwater angelfish typically inhabit slow-moving waters of the Amazon in South America and can be found in the fresh waters of eastern Ecuador, Peru and Brazil.|
|What do they eat?||These fish eat sponges, corals, plankton, algae, jellyfish and crustaceans. Many juvenile marine angelfish attach to larger fish and act as cleaning stations by eating large parasites off of it.||Because they're omnivorous, freshwater angelfish can eat anything from smaller fish, shrimps, insects, larvae, floating food particles and a variety of plants.|
|Do they have predators?||Larger fish are the predators to mature marine angelfish, and even marine invertebrates can be predators to young angelfish.||Like marine angelfish, those that live in fresh water may be prey to larger fish, reptiles, birds and mammals.|
HONOLULU Magazine, "The $30,000 Peppermint Angelfish at Waikiki Aquarium"
Conservation Organizations for Angelfish & Tropical Fish
- Fish & Aquatic Conservation, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
- Coral Reef Conservation Initiative, National Fish & Wildlife Foundation
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coral Reef Conservation Program, U.S. Department of Commerce
- Protecting Coral Reef Wildlife from the Aquarium Trade, For the Fishes