Angelfish species identification guide

The angelfish, jewel of the tropical seas

Pomacanthidae (angelfish) are among the most iconic of the coral reef fishes. With their bright colors, captivating patterns and flat, tall in structure body, they surely are the most majestic residents of the reef.

Certain species can reach a length of 60cm, while the smallest do not exceed 15cm. Most of juvenile angelfish has a drastically different color pattern than the adult. For example, juveniles’ emperor angelfish are dark blue with electric blue and white rings, while adults have bright yellow and blue horizontal stripes, with a dark mask covering the eyes.

Difference between juvenile and adult emperor angelfish
Juveniles of most angelfish species often sport coloration and patterning very different from that of adults. Left, a juvenile emperor angelfish spotted at the Natural Pool, New Caledonia, and right, an adult photographed in Boucan Canot, Reunion.

Some angelfish species are noted to be inquisitive and curious towards snorkelers.

Where do angelfish live?

Over 80 species of angelfish are found in the Caribbean Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, most of them with very specific distribution areas.

French angelfish is one of the most abundant in the Caribbean, while emperor angelfish and regal angelfish are commonly seen while snorkeling the Indian and western Pacific Ocean.

Angelfish of the Caribbean
The French angelfish (left) and the gray angelfish (right) are the most common species in the Caribbean. Here, photographed together in Caneel Bay, USVI.

The King angelfish occurs on the eastern Pacific Ocean, from the Gulf of California to coastal Peru, including the Galápagos Islands.

Caribbean & Western Atlantic angelfish

Indian & Pacific Oceans angelfish

Eastern Pacific Ocean angelfish

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