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System requirements for Clownfish

By Stanley Brown
The Breeders Registry

Anemonefishes generally do not require an elaborate system to maintain good health.  For most species a 20-gallon aquarium is adequate and some professional breeders maintain broodstock pairs in 10-gallon aquariums (pers.comm. Joe Lichtenbert 2000) .  It is common to maintain a spawning pair in a “community tank”, although due to conspecific aggression is it not advisable to keep multiple pairs (even if different species) in the same tank UNLESS IT IS A TANK OF GREAT VOLUME.  Physical surface/substrate area is more critical than tank volume.  In the wild anenomefishes territories are not large in comparison to other damselfishes and this may be a contributing factor to their success in aquariums. 

In aquariums the threat of predators is eliminated by the aquarist, who, if careless, may be the greatest predator the captive inhabitants may have to face!  This removal of predators makes it unnecessary to keep the anemonefishes with a host anemone.  Anemones are much more difficult to maintain than clownfish and have more rigid requirements (lighting being a key requirement) and they also represent an increased bio-load on the system.  If you are insistent on keeping an anemone with the anenomefishes, realize that this will place additional requirements and demands on the system.  It is well documented that anemonefishes will spawn in captivity in the absence of an anemone (Fautine & Allen 1994,  Moe  , Wilkerson 1999 ).

Lighting requirements are not critical providing that a light and dark photoperiod be provided.  A period of 14 hours light and 10 dark is a common practice.  Spectrum and intensity may be a consideration if  the aquarium contains organisms from high light environments OR for undesirable algae/cyanobacteria.  Filtration should be adequate to maintain ammonia/ammonium and nitrate levels at below detectable levels.  Nitrates appear to be tolerated by the adults but it has been suggested that elevated levels may interfere with larval development, contribute to low hatchability, and be a contributing factor to misbarring.   Water movement should be adequate to support the filtration system and provide for good gas exchange.

A suitable spawning site can be the surface of a rock, the glass, a clay flower pot, a short section of 3” or 4” PVC pipe (color seems unimportant ), a ceramic tile, and even the side of nearby powerhead!  Initially it may be advisable to provide several possible “sites” and once the pair has selected a site remove the others.  Unless disturbed, the pair will continue to spawn on the same site.

i- Fautine, Daphne G. & Allen, Gerald, R., 1994, Anemonefishes  and their Host Sea Anemones, Tetra Press, Germany. 
ii- Personal communication, 2000, Joe Lichtenbert, Reef Propagation’s, USA.
iii- Ibid. i
iv- Moe, Martin Jr., A., 1989, The Marine Aquarium Reference: Systems and Invertebrates, Green Turtle Publications, USA
v- Wilkerson, Joyce D., 1998, Clownfishes: A Guide to their Captive Care, Breeding & Natural History;  ,Microcosm Ltd., USA
vi- Brown, Stanley D., 1998,  Low Tech Larval Trap, The Journal of MaquaCulture, Vol 6:1-17

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