The Flame Angel

It has been said many times that the successful marine aquarium is a spectacular sight: beautiful fish and corals with matured reefwork making it all look very natural despite the glass box.

There are many fish that could be chosen to help produce the scene as described above and it can be confusing. As usual the aquarist needs to show patience and do research so that the fish (or coral) chosen is compatible and will not cause disruption or grow too big. The angelfish are a clear choice as they display lovely colours and certainly enhance any display.

Hang on though, what about size and hardiness? Size is the first problem as many angels, such as the Emperor and Koran can grow to 12″ (30.5cm) or so, much too big for many home aquariums. There is a group of angels that only grow to between 2″  to 5″ (circa 5 to 12.5cm)  and these are the main interest to the home aquarist with a smaller aquarium. Understandably they have been called ‘God’s gift to aquarists’.

When considering purchasing the fish at the shop the usual rules apply – does the fish swim and breath properly, are the fins solid and not ragged, is the body clear of marks and well shaped and does the fish feed. A dealer will usually offer a little food to the fish to demonstrate the last point. Take time there isn’t any hurry.

So then, the really beautiful – it could be called spectacular – flame angel. The proper name is Centropyge loriculus. It is one of the larger dwarf angels and is capable of growing to about 5″ (circa 12.5cm). It is not the hardiest of the dwarf angels but is reasonably so in a high quality environment. The home aquarium should be fully matured, not newly so, as the flame angel likes to graze over rockwork looking for small surface algae and other morsels to eat. To maintain health and colour it needs green food, one reason for the requirement for a mature environment – if green food in a small quantity is not available then small supplements are required from time to time. Overall the fish has an omnivorous tendency going for most things available including flake. It is generally safe with corals though it will often nibble at green looking specimens but usually doesn’t do any damage. To avoid stress there needs to be rock work so that the fish can choose a place to hide in the dark. It seems clear that the best environment for the flame angel is a reef system, or less so a low stocked mature ‘fish only’ containing rock work.

So no problem then if the fish goes into a reasonably aged environment with rocks? There is usually something and so there is with this fish. Despite the ‘angel’ tag it isn’t completely sweet as it is quite bad tempered and is likely to chase off other fish that come too close, unless they are clearly bigger. Also, there is a risk of trouble if other fish have any colour that is close to that of the angel. So that’s a further consideration to bear in mind. Like damsel fish, it could be better to make the flame angel the last introduction to the community.

I have had a flame angel for 11 years in my soft coral reef system. It has demonstrated the bad temper mentioned earlier but has not caused damage to the other fish, a blue damsel and a royal gramma. The flame angel has chased the damsel but the damsel is much too quick, disappearing into rockwork, and the royal gramma hangs about its favourite hidey hole a lot though it does go further afield regularly. The royal gramma is ignored now for most of the time as it has grown, at least I assume that’s the reason why. As far as corals are concerned (all soft corals) the  flame hasn’t damaged any at all ever. The fish does gently ‘mouth’ the green star polyps (Pachyclavularia) when passing but as said never causes any damage.

There is another safeguard against innapropriate purchase of a flame angel and this is price. The fish is usually quite expensive and this alone will make the aquarist pause for thought. However, if the price is right, if the intended high quality environment is mature and if the tankmates are appropriate the flame angel will make a superb addition.