Emperor Angelfish

Emperor Angelfish (Pomacanthus imperator) as seen in our Sea & Me exhibit.

This fish’s brilliant colors and vibrant pattern make it a favorite of photographers, artists, naturalists and aquarists the world over. The adult Emperor Angelfish is shaped like an oblong disk and has a bright yellow body crossed diagonally with blue-gray lines. The tail fin is yellow and the anal fin is dark blue. The coloring on the face creates the impression of a mask, with a dark gray band trimmed in blue running from each eye and across the head. The mouth and cheeks are a yellow-pink color. In sharp contrast, the juvenile Emperor Angelfish is entirely dark blue and covered with a pattern of white concentric circles. So dramatic are the color difference between the adult and juvenile, they are often mistaken for different species. Even scientists didn’t realize they were the same animal until the early 1930s. The Emperor Angelfish is an omnivore, meaning it eats both plants and animals commonly found in tropical reefs. Its preferred diet consists of sponges, tunicates, algae and vascular plants. When the fish is younger, it will often act as a “cleaner animal” to other reef residents by nibbling parasites off their bodies. Adult specimens will grow up to 15 inches (40 cm) in the wild.

Range & Habitat

The Emperor Angelfish is most commonly associated with tropical reefs throughout the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The fish can be commonly found east to the Hawaiian Islands, and have rarely been reported in the waters around Easter Island (Rapa Nui), Chile. The fish prefer to stay close to caves, holes or ledges where they can quickly retreat when danger approaches. They are most commonly seen alone or in mated pairs.

Conservation Status