Do Clownfish Eat Their Eggs and Babies?

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Clownfish are known to be caring and protective parents, so this article’s very topic seems out-of-place, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, there are times when the clownfish has been known to eat their own eggs and even babies soon after hatching.

But what drives them to such awful behaviors, and is there a way to mitigate this unwanted tendency?

Let’s have a look!

Why Do Clownfish Eat Their Eggs?

Most clownfish don’t eat their eggs, but some do, and the male is most often the culprit. That’s because the male protects the eggs from everything that could harm them, including the female.

It’s common for clownfish males to exhibit extreme aggression when playing the role of the egg guardian.

This being said, the male can sometimes eat some or even all of the eggs. While this is an atypical and rare behavior, it’s worth knowing that it can happen.

Here are some potential causes that could explain this cannibalistic tendency:

Eggs are Not Fertile

Not all eggs will be fertilized. Some are simply bad, or the male’s sperm won’t reach them, causing them to remain infertile.

You can distinguish between fertile and infertile eggs by assessing them visually. Fertile eggs become slightly darker and even showcase a dark spot inside, which is the developing embryo.

Infertile eggs remain pasty white, which is an indicator that no embryo is present.

The male will care for the eggs up-close and personally and will notice the differences between them. This will drive the clownfish male to eat the infertile eggs, which is a calculated behavior driven by evolutionary instincts.

The infertile eggs will soon go bad and become attacked by bacteria and fungi, which can quickly spread to the viable eggs.

The male’s actions will prevent that. So, if your male only consumes the white and pasty eggs, that’s normal behavior.

Fungus on Eggs

Fungal infections are, unfortunately, common and don’t discriminate. They are more frequent in poor water conditions with a lot of bacteria and fungal growths near the substrate.

The male will notice the bad eggs and consume the sick ones immediately. The goal is to prevent the fungal spread to the good eggs.

The problem is that fungal infections can attack fertile and infertile eggs indiscriminately.

You can prevent such an issue by keeping your clownfish in peak water conditions, especially during the breeding and nursing season.

Inexperienced Parents

This is also a problem common among clownfish. Most clownfish understand their parental duties quite fast, but this isn’t always the case.

Some fish will undergo some trial and error, during which some eggs may take the fall. It’s not uncommon for young clownfish parents to consume freshly-laid eggs or even the newborns soon after hatching.

Again, the male is most often the culprit because no other fish will be allowed near the nest. Including the clownfish mother.

A variation of this issue relates to the male’s lack of parental instincts. This is rather rare, but it can happen.

The male might not eat the eggs himself, but he won’t provide any protection either, allowing other tank inhabitants to take them for food.

These problems relate to the clownfish’s lack of parental experience and should go away by the second breeding season.

Stress

Stress is a real problem in general, but it can become deadly during the breeding season.

First of all, clownfish won’t breed in a stressful environment, to begin with. If they do, though, you have other problems on your hand. One of them is the male’s increased aggression and irritability when stressed.

Guardian clownfish males are already on edge when performing their egg-protecting tasks. A high-stress environment will easily push them over, causing the male to become more unhinged than usual.

This can cause extreme aggression and territorial behavior and even trigger the male to eat the eggs.

To prevent this problem altogether, always:

  • Keep water conditions in optimal parameters
  • Provide your clownfish male with a nutritious and satisfying diet
  • Eliminate all potential stress triggers, especially the clownfish female and other tank companions

Also, check your clownfish regularly to observe its behavior and overall status. If your fish exhibits signs of digestive problems or showcases symptoms of disease, you need to remove it for treatment immediately.

Health Problems

Health problems like parasitic, fungal, or bacterial infections can cause extreme physical suffering, causing your clownfish to experience elevated stress and discomfort.

It’s common for sick clownfish to attack their partners and even eat their own eggs or fry.

Immediate treatment is necessary to mitigate these behaviors and ensure your clownfish’s speedy recovery.

If your clownfish appears sick or lethargic (which is a sign of disease), consider the following:

  • Quarantine – This should always be your first move. Quarantining the fish is the best control method you can use to contain the disorder and improve the treatment’s effectiveness. Just ensure that the hospital tank has similar water parameters and conditions to the main tank. This prevents the clownfish from experiencing temperature shock or increasing its discomfort when unnecessary.
  • Adequate diagnosis – Many fish disorders share similar symptoms, so it’s easy to misdiagnose your fish’s condition. Take your time to write down all symptoms that may transpire and consult a vet if you’re uncertain of the problem. This thorough approach is necessary to prevent mistreatment and address the condition more effectively.
  • Adequate treatment – Each condition requires a layered treatment, typically consisting of multiple approaches. Daily water changes are necessary for parasitic and bacterial infections, along with a highly nutritious diet and adequate medication, depending on the situation. If you do need to use medication, I recommend discussing this aspect with your vet or any fish professional who can provide guidance in this sense.

Poor Diet

This is a no-brainer and, unfortunately, quite a frequent problem that many inexperienced clownfish keepers will face at some point.

Clownfish rank as omnivorous animals, but this doesn’t explain much. Novice clownfish keepers take the ‘omnivorous’ tag and run with it as they would with any other omnivorous fish.

Not knowing that clownfish require much more animal protein than other omnivorous fish.

Wild clownfish eat mostly animal protein from insects, insect larvae, worms, copepods, microcrustaceans, fish eggs, etc.

They also consume veggies and algae wafers in captivity, but these should form the majority of their diet. If they do, the clownfish will look for animal protein from other sources, such as their own eggs.

Not feeding your clownfish enough can also have a similar outcome.

Juvenile clownfish require 3-4 meals per day, while adults need at least 2. Some will have 3, depending on their size and appetite.

You should always observe your clownfish’s feeding behavior to learn how often it eats and how much food it requires with each meal. Clownfish should complete their meal in less than 3 minutes.

Anything above that predisposes them to overfeeding, which comes with a variety of additional problems you don’t want.

Filial Cannibalism

This behavior is often associated with known cannibalistic species, including blennies, guppies, cichlids, and most aquarium fish.

The behavior has an evolutionary explanation or several, shall we say. One of them is population control. Parent fish eat some of their eggs and offspring to keep the population stable.

Otherwise, you would have an explosion of fish offspring, which is bound to occur, given that many aquarium fish lay hundreds or even thousands of eggs in one breeding session.

Fish can’t rationalize this fact; they just act the way nature created them. Add to this the fact that eggs and fry are nutritious, and fish can’t always distinguish between their babies, and those of other species and the outcome is obvious. And understandable.

The issue is that clownfish don’t typically show filial cannibalism. It’s uncommon for the clownfish parent, whether male or female, to consume their own eggs or fry, but it can happen.

If your clownfish male keeps eating its own eggs without no apparent reason, you might want to eliminate the male from the reproductive pool.

Do Clownfish Eat Their Babies?

Yes, they do. This is more of a paradox than anything else, given that clownfish take good care of their eggs.

Once the eggs hatch, the clownfish fry are on their own. They can easily fall prey to other fish and their parents if they don’t have sufficient hiding places and open room to flee.

This is why you should always remove the male from the nursing tank if you want to save your clownfish fry. The fry should be ready for the main tank within their first month of life with good care and plenty of nutritious food.

By that time, they should be large enough for the adults to no longer target them as prey.

Even so, make sure that the main tank has a variety of hiding areas and live plants that the fry can use for safety and comfort.

Are Clownfish Good Parents?

Yes, but no. I guess it generally depends on how you define the notion of ‘good parents.’ If by good parents you mean that they care for their eggs, yes, they are good parents.

If you mean that they care for their fry, they’re not. This makes the clownfish very confusing for novice fish keepers who assume that the egg-caring behavior also carries over to the fry.

This isn’t the case, as I’ve just explained. Clownfish aren’t fond of caring for their babies, which feeds into the species’ dualist nature.

So, don’t rely on your clownfish to care for the fry once the eggs have hatched.

Conclusion

Clownfish don’t typically eat their own eggs, but it can happen. Your role is to identify the triggers responsible for that behavior and correct them asap.

When it comes to the fry, always separate them from the adults until they’re large enough to care for themselves.

avatar I’m Fabian, aquarium fish breeder and founder of this website. I’ve been keeping fish, since I was a kid. On this blog, I share a lot of information about the aquarium hobby and various fish species that I like. Please leave a comment if you have any question.

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