Clownfish Care – The Ultimate Guide for Beginners
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Clownfish are popular saltwater fish thanks to their joyful demeanor, easy-going behavior, and adaptability.
It’s also worth noting that clownfish showcase an amazing variation in terms of color and patterns, as there are almost 30 species you can choose from.
Some diverge so much from the typical clownfish look that they don’t even seem related to other clownfish species.
So, if you’re enamored with the cute Nemo, let’s see what you need to keep one in your home tank.
Remember, clownfish can live up to 6-10 years with good care and proper maintenance and feeding.
But let’s start with the beginning!
What is a Clownfish?
Clownfish belong to the Pomacentridae family, which includes damselfish as well.
They are medium-sized to large fish, varying in size between 2 and 12 inches, depending on the breed.
Most breeds showcase the standard orange and white pattern. If you know Nemo, you know what a common clownfish looks like.
That being said, many breeds display a wildly varied appearance to the point where they don’t even look like clownfish anymore.
Here are some examples to highlight the point:
- The cinnamon clownfish is half black and half orange, with only a white band behind its head
- The Clarkii clownfish is black with yellow fins and a white tail
- The pink skunk is fiery in color with white fins and a narrow and short white stripe behind the head
- The saddleback clownfish is bulky with a meaty head and bulgy eyes; it mixes black with orange and white patches (including the white saddle) for an even more unusual pattern
These marine fish are generally peaceful and omnivorous and are known for their symbiotic relationship with anemones.
Anemones are plant-like animals that consist of a trunk, a central mouth, and a crown of thick tentacles surrounding the mouth.
They rely on their poisonous and sticky tentacles to catch unsuspecting prey wandering nearby, given that they don’t move much.
The notorious relationship between clownfish and anemones is intriguing for several reasons. One of them is that clownfish rely heavily on anemones to survive in the wild.
That’s because clownfish cannot protect themselves against predators; anemones serve as guardians with their poisonous tentacles.
In turn, clownfish will clean the anemones of parasites and algae and create water movement between the tentacles, increasing oxygen circulation.
The other interesting point is that clownfish have developed specific defense mechanisms against the anemones so that the exotic marine animal won’t hurt them.
- Acquired venom immunity – Research has shown that clownfish will repeatedly get stung by anemones during a so-called acclimation period. The fish’s body will eventually adapt to the small doses of toxin, allowing the fish to soon become immune.
- Mucus protection – It’s speculated that the mucus that clownfish produce has protective capabilities, preventing the anemones’ small tentacle needs from injecting the toxin altogether.
- Innate protection – Some clownfish breeds have developed an innate (born) protection against anemone toxin, rendering them impervious to it. The breeds lacking this innate protection have to undergo the acclimation process I’ve just mentioned.
As you can see, clownfish are astounding creatures with unique physiology and behavior.
It also helps that they are easy to keep and can adapt to a multitude of community setups with the right preparation.
Are Clownfish Good for Beginners?
Yes, but not all. I would say that most clownfish breeds are fit for beginners, while a few require more advanced care and maintenance.
The pink skunk clownfish is a good example of the latter, given its increased sensitivity to changing water parameters and improper water conditions.
This breed is notoriously sensitive to ammonia and nitrites, so it requires more intensive care to remain healthy.
Pink skunks are also highly dependent on anemones, even in captivity, while other breeds can do just fine without them.
However, most clownfish are easily manageable, given their hardiness and adaptability.
Clownfish Aquarium Setup
There are several key points to note here:
- Tank size – This depends on how many clownfish you plan on keeping. Some clownfish do decent in groups, but others only thrive in pairs. The Nemo clownfish, for instance, requires approximately 20 gallons of water for a pair. Other clownfish may require more space depending on their size and behavior. The maroon clownfish, for instance, can reach 7 inches, which is almost double than Nemo, requiring more than 50 gallons for proper keeping conditions.
- Tank layout – Clownfish are reef animals, so they need a varied setup. You can either keep them in a legitimate reef-based ecosystem or go for fake reef structures, either works. The idea is to have a varied tank layout with rocks, caves, plants, and other elements that would keep the clownfish busy. These are intelligent animals that like to explore their habitat constantly. Sufficient open swimming space is also necessary for clownfish to perform their daily workout.
- Anemones – Clownfish don’t necessarily need anemones to thrive in the tank, but they will surely love to have some around. Adding anemones to your clownfish tank will provide your clownfish with a natural habitat that will mimic the fish’s native ecosystem. Just be mindful of the anemones themselves. It’s well known that anemones don’t fare that well in captivity, as they require precise water conditions and parameters to remain healthy.
In general, the clownfish’ habitat should be clean, fresh, and varied to keep your fish active and happy.
Water Parameters for Clownfish
Fortunately, clownfish are not pretentious about their water conditions at all.
Here are some basic parameters to consider:
- Temperature – 74-79 °F. Clownfish require warm waters and stable temperatures. Get a heater for optimal control to prevent temperature fluctuations. The heater is even more necessary for a community setup with different fish species requiring different values.
- pH level – 7.8 to 8.4. This is a great pH range, as it allows for an impressive pool when it comes to potential tankmates. Many fish species fall in this approximative range, making the clownfish great for community tanks.
- Gravity – 1.021-1.026. The larger the tank is and the more water you have, the stabler will the gravity remains. This means that clownfish aren’t meant to live in nano environments.
Water quality isn’t vital, but it can make a difference in the clownfish’s quality of life.
Provide your fish with regular tank cleaning and maintenance to prevent health problems like marine Ich, parasites, or bacterial infections.
Clownfish can become stressed when kept in improper conditions.
Feeding Your Clownfish
Clownfish are unpretentious omnivorous eaters, so they’re a breeze in this sense. Adults require 2 meals per day and a varied diet to remain healthy.
Potential foods include anemone tentacles, fish eggs, larvae, insects, small crustaceans, and copepods, the latter of which should swim freely in their habitat.
You can also complement their diet with other food sources, including frozen foods like fish and shrimp. Spirulina wafers and some boiled or fresh veggies should also work wonders in terms of food variation.
Don’t feed your clownfish more than what they can eat within 3 minutes, and, most importantly, try to remove excess food residues to prevent ammonia formation.
A handful of bottom-dwelling scavengers should have a field day in such a habitat.
Clownfish Aquarium Maintenance
There are several points worth mentioning in this sense:
- Monitor water parameters – Always verify the temperature, gravity, pH, and the levels of ammonia and nitrites. Ammonia and nitrites should always remain at 0, as even the slightest increases can cause your clownfish stress and more severe health problems later down the line.
- Regular water changes – I say you should perform a weekly water change of at least 15% of the total water volume. This is necessary to reoxygenate the water, dilute any potentially harmful chemicals, and keep the environment fresh and healthy. Clownfish are generally hardy and resilient fish, but they too can experience Ich, fungal infections, or swim bladder disease if kept in suboptimal water conditions.
- A good cleaning schedule – Remove excess algae and flush out food leftovers and fish waste from the substrate. Regular vacuuming is key to preserving the system’s stability and preventing ammonia buildup. You may need an even tighter maintenance schedule in a community tank.
Other than that, you should always monitor your fish. I’m not talking about admiring them occasionally but actually assessing their overall health and behavior.
Clownfish will display signs of stress if something’s not right with them. Some of the typical symptoms to look out for include hiding behavior, lack of appetite, skin discoloration, abnormal swimming, etc.
How Many Clownfish Should You Get?
Clownfish breed in pairs, so this alone speaks volumes on this topic. You shouldn’t have more than 2 clownfish, male and female, in your tank, not even if you have sufficient space for more.
That’s because clownfish can get pretty aggressive towards any other similarly-looking fish, including members of their own species. Clownfish form pairs and then attack and bully all other clownfish in their vicinity.
This is to protect the coming eggs from other clownfish that could eat them.
That being said, some aquarists have reported housing more than 2 clownfish in the same tank, but this is typically rare and requires some thorough brainstorming.
You want a lot of space and a variety of hiding areas and plants to prevent clownfish-on-clownfish violence.
Even then, it’s not sure that your clownfish will be able to cohabitate in peace.
Do Clownfish Need Anemones?
In the wild, yes, they do. In fact, clownfish’ own survival depends on their symbiotic relationship with anemones.
The main reason for that is the clownfish’s low swimming capabilities. This species is not known for its great swimming, which forces clownfish to remain close to the anemones to find protection.
Such a relationship is no longer necessary in captivity, where clownfish have no life-threatening dangers to face anymore.
Even so, they won’t refuse some anemone company if you have the experience and resources to make it happen.
Just make sure you pair the right clownfish with the right anemone. Some anemones are known to consume all life forms wandering in their vicinity, including clownfish.
Most clownfish breeds are great for beginners. They are not pretentious, will eat mostly anything, and can withstand some water parameter variations should they ever occur.
That being said, providing them with adequate care and maintenance, and a well-rounded diet will considerably increase the fish’s lifespan and quality of life.
Find the most beginner-friendly clownfish breed you can get, and only get into the more difficult breeds once you’ve acquired sufficient experience.