10 Fun Facts About Clownfish
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If you’re thinking about getting a clownfish but haven’t committed to it yet, I’m here to deliver the final push.
Clownfish are some of the most beloved marine fish, thanks to their temperament, personality, ease of care, and overall presence.
Today, we will discuss 10 of the most interesting facts about clownfish designed to both dispel some misconceptions and shed additional light on this exotic and exhilarating species.
Let’s start with the very beginning.
1. The Name Clownfish
Two factors have contributed to the fish earning its name:
- The appearance – Clownfish are very colorful and come with a distinct color pattern. Common clownfish are orange with 3 white bands breaking the background color behind the neck, across the mid-section, and at the tail base. This makes the fish’s coloring resemble a clown’s makeup. Interestingly enough, though, this pattern is only specific to common clownfish and several other breeds, but not all. Clownfish are spread across 30 different breeds, some of which are wildly different in terms of size, shape, and coloring.
- The swimming – Clownfish have a somewhat funny swimming movement. They tend to wiggle their entire body to move, which forces them to spend a lot of energy doing so. This explains why clownfish aren’t exactly the best swimmers in the world and why they tend not to move as much as other fish. It also explains why they rely on anemones for security in the wild, given that they cannot outswim any potential predators that may target them.
The fish is also cute and playful, which may have also played a role in this sense.
2. Different Clownfish Types
Typing clownfish in Google will present you with the classic Nemo clownfish. You will immediately recognize the fish by its orange-and-white pattern and distinct body shape with round fins.
But this isn’t the only clownfish type out there. There are at least 30 different clownfish breeds, some of which are the result of selective breeding in captivity.
These sometimes branch quite far from the classic Nemo look.
Here are some examples in this sense:
- Cinnamon clownfish – This breed is slightly larger than your typical clownfish, as is capable of reaching 5 inches in good conditions. The fish has a rounder body and comes with a black body and an orange head. The anal fin is black, while all other fins are orange, including the tail. The cinnamon clownfish has black eyes and a white vertical band behind the head.
- Tomato clownfish – This is another 5-inch breed that looks nothing like the standard Nemo type. The fish has an oval-shaped body and is pure orange with only a distinct white band behind the head.
- Clarkii clownfish – The clarkii clownfish is an even more peculiar sight. The fish is almost completely black with the exception of its fins and face, which are yellow. Two bands can be visible, a white one behind the head and a blue one across the midsection.
- Pink skunk clownfish – This is a small breed, reaching only 2-3 inches, and is one of the most difficult to keep. Pink skunks are more pretentious in terms of water quality and diet than most clownfish breeds. They have oval-shaped bodies displaying a fiery color, mixing yellow with orange and white. They often display a pink gradient around the head. The fins are transparent-white.
As you can see, there’s a lot of variation to consider in case you want something more than the standard clownfish look.
This said, don’t try to mix different clownfish species for a plus of diversity. These fish are peaceful, but rarely accept the presence of other clownfish.
3. Clownfish are Omnivores
This point had to be mentioned, given that most aquarists feed their clownfish a carnivorous diet. That’s because clownfish prefer live food over anything else, which can give away the wrong impression.
The truth is that clownfish are not carnivorous but omnivorous. They also require some algae, zooplankton, and plenty of live foods like copepods, krill, brine shrimp, etc.
Fortunately, clownfish aren’t too pretentious about their meals. So long as they’re nutritious and tasteful, they won’t refuse them.
You can feed them a variety of commercial and live foods to see what they like since not all fish will eat the same.
4. Clownfish and Anemone
Few things are more well-known and well-researched than the relationship between clownfish and anemones.
If you’re not up-to-date with how that works, let’s break it down into a couple of bullet points:
- Anemones are animals – This may come as a surprise, given the anemones’ plant-like appearance and behavior. Anemones are marine animals related to corals and jellyfish and are actually predatorial in nature. The animal itself consists of a polyp, a solid supportive trunk, a central mouth, and a crown of tube-like tentacles swimming freely in the water column. The tentacles contain cnydocites, which are explosive cells filled with a paralyzing toxin. Anemones use them to incapacitate small prey and carry it to the mouth. These animals are extremely colorful and wildly varied in appearance, which is where their similarities with the anemone plants come from.
- Symbiotic mutualism – This is what the clownfish-anemone relationship is called. Symbiotic mutualism describes a win-win relationship where both parties involved offer the other some notable benefits. Anemones provide the clownfish with protection and food, as the clownfish collect parasites and algae from the tentacles and even consume dead tentacles. On the other hand, clownfish improve water and oxygen circulation between the tentacles, which is key to anemone’s health, given that these animals don’t move much.
- Vital cooperation – The relationship between clownfish and anemones is so powerful that clownfish cannot actually survive without anemones in the wild. That’s because clownfish are poor swimmers and lack any reliable self-defense capabilities. Anemones will provide them with the protection they need, as most clownfish predators won’t come near them.
- Clownfish don’t need anemones in captivity – The reason for that is that aquariums are safe, so clownfish feel more at ease than they would feel in the wild. This being said, some clownfish breeds are more anemone-dependent than others. Such is the case of the pink skunk clownfish, which requires anemones to remain calm and comfortable.
- Anemones are difficult to keep – This is the main reason why most aquarists skip anemones altogether. This being said, they could bring a lot of value to the tank, provided you learn how to care for them properly. Anemones require specific water conditions and a clean habitat with good water movement to remain healthy.
- Clownfish are impervious to anemone toxins – Some clownfish breeds have innate protection against anemone toxins, which means they are born with it. Others have acquired protection which they get from getting stung by anemones repeatedly and developing immunity over time. Other clownfish produce a thick skin mucus which prevents them from getting stung in the first place. This adaptability allows clownfish and anemones to cohabitate in peace.
- Anemone killers – Not all anemones are peaceful and ready to cooperate with clownfish. Some, especially larger and more aggressive types, like carpet anemones, can hunt and eat clownfish. Other types, like condy anemone, aren’t familiar with clownfish at all since they don’t share the same environment.
- Clownfish killers – Sometimes, even clownfish can eat anemones if the latter are too small. You should always pair your clownfish with similarly-sized anemones to prevent that.
5. Clownfish Live in Hierarchy
All clownfish are born males and participate in a hierarchical struggle when living in a group. As a result of the struggle, which often includes violence, the larger and more dominant male will change sex and become a female.
The next in line will be the strongest male of the bunch, which will mature sexually and mate with the female.
The rest of the males will remain smaller and sexually immature, so they won’t be able to reproduce with one another. At least not until the female leaves the group or dies, in which case the power struggle resumes.
This is the primary reason why you shouldn’t have more than 2 clownfish in the same environment. The hierarchical instincts will force the clownfish to produce a dominant female and a pairing male.
The rest of the males will become virtually useless as they won’t mature sexually anymore.
Furthermore, the dominant pair will bully and attack the smaller and weaker males, contributing to a tense and unhealthy vibe.
6. Clownfish Change Gender
As we’ve already discussed, gender swapping is common among clownfish. While all clownfish are born males, they have female reproductive organs, too, making them hermaphrodites. The problem is that the fish cannot use any of their reproductive organs.
A typical clownfish will reach sexual maturity by the age of 1.5-2-years-old. This is in a pair when the clownfish take on their gender roles based on their hierarchical dominance.
When that happens, the more dominant male will become a female and mate with the male.
If you keep clownfish in a group, only one will change sex, while the others will all remain males. You will never have more than one clownfish female per group.
This means that you need a specific approach if you want to breed your clownfish. The most important strategy is to separate 2 of them from the general population and relocate them into a breeding tank.
If the conditions are right, one of the clownfish will change sex and form a mating pair with the other.
This happens as a result of a hierarchical struggle, during which the 2 males will fight to determine who’s the dominant one.
The one who wins turns into a female. To speed up the process, make sure that the 2 clownfish are vastly different in size.
This way, the larger one will acquire dominance instantly, forcing the other to accept its hierarchical role faster.
7. Clownfish Communicate
This is a lesser-known fact about clownfish and an intriguing one at the same time. These fish can actually communicate verbally with one another.
No, they don’t construct arguments or recite poetry; instead, they use their teeth and jaw bones to produce sound.
The result is a series of chirps, pops, and claps that are used to send specific messages, whether threatening, welcoming, or mating-related.
The fish are so talkative at times that you can actually hear them through the tank’s walls.
8. Clownfish Have a Long Lifespan
You may have heard that clownfish can live approximately 3-10 years in captivity. The fish’s lifespan varies based on the breed, specimen, environmental conditions, diet, and several other factors.
But you may not have known that this species can live up to 30 years in the wild.
This is an outstanding lifespan, one of the reasons why clownfish are so beloved as aquatic pets.
It’s easy to bond with them and turn them into family members, especially given their intelligence and easy-going personalities.
9. Clownfish Don’t Care for Their Babies
This may come as a surprise, given that clownfish are known to care for the eggs. At least the male is.
Clownfish males will turn into fierce guardians after fertilizing the eggs and begin to patrol the area around the nest relentlessly. They will attack any fish wandering nearby, including the female that laid the eggs.
It is due to the male’s aggression that you need to have a nursing tank readily available. You can’t have your clownfish breeding in the main tank, knowing how violent the guardian male can become.
Unfortunately, this is where the fish’s paternal instincts stop. The male is no longer interested in its guarding roles after the fry hatch.
To make things worse, the male will even hunt and eat the fry if given the opportunity.
The same goes for the female, the rest of the clownfish in case you have several of them, and other tank occupants, for that matter.
This means you should always separate the eggs from the general population if you want to save the fry.
10. Clownfish are Easy to Care For
Clownfish are adaptable and hardy for the most part. They don’t require any drastic environmental conditions and can withstand some parameter variation occasionally.
Some of the main parameter and tank conditions to consider include the following:
- Temperature around 74-79 °F
- pH around 7.8-8.4
- A gravity around 1.021-1.026
- At least 20 gallons of space for one clownfish with an additional 10 gallons for each new subsequent clownfish
Other than that, provide your clownfish with a rich reef structure for hiding and exploration purposes, some live plants, and a fine substrate, preferably mixed with crushed corals for pH buffering.
You should also include live rocks to provide clownfish with more feeding opportunities, air stones for improved oxygenation, and a good filtration system for adequate aquarium hygiene.
Stable parameters and good water conditions are recommended to prevent health problems like marine Ich or overall clownfish stress.
Most importantly, don’t pair your clownfish with other clownfish breeds since this will trigger the clownfish’s territorial tendencies.
The ideal tankmates should be peaceful and tolerant to match the clownfish’s personality.
As you can see, clownfish are quite the handful once you get to know them.
Get yourself a healthy and handsome pair, and you will thank me later.