Aquarium Fish: Pomacanthus navarchus – The Majestic Angelfish

I just can’t resist
experimenting with angelfish in my reef aquariums. I was in
Florida recently for a speaking engagement and had a chance to
visit a number of private reef aquariums in the Ft. Lauderdale
area. There must be more large angelfish in reef aquariums in
this area than any other place in the country. It seemed that
every reef aquarium contained at least one or more angelfish.
When I came back to New York I got the itch again to add another
angelfish to my reef aquarium. I knew it would be one of the
Pomacanthus angels, but which one? I narrowed my choices
down to the Emperor Angelfish (P. imperator), Blue-Faced
Angelfish (P. xanthometopon) and Majestic Angelfish
(P. navarchus). They all can be kept in reef aquariums
with some limitations. Based upon my past experiences and
observations, I determined that the Majestic Angelfish was the
safest choice. It’s the only Pomacanthus angelfish
that I’ve repeatedly witnessed co-existing with LPS
(Large-Polyped Stony) corals and clams, as well as with many soft
corals, such as Xenia and Zoanthids. I have a wide
selection of corals and clams in my largest reef aquarium, so if
an angelfish is prone to pick at a particular coral, it can
probably find it in this aquarium. And I was prepared to remove a
coral or two from the aquarium, if the angelfish took a liking to
it. If my aquarium was limited to strictly SPS (Small-Polyped
Stony) corals, then I would have had a wider choice in angelfish.
Most of the Pomacanthus angels do well in SPS coral reef
aquariums. The Emperor Angelfish (Pomacanthus imperator)
is a favorite with reef aquarists keeping SPS coral tanks.


The Majestic Angelfish (Pomacanthus
) is about to join the other fish at the feeding
clip in this picture from the author’s 500 gallon reef

The Majestic Angel is one of 13 species in the genus
Pomacanthus. It enjoys a widespread distribution
throughout the Indo-Pacific Ocean as well as parts of the eastern
Indian Ocean. It does not occur in the South Pacific or Red Sea.
It is naturally found in areas rich in coral coverage from
lagoons to outer reefs. Juveniles tend to remain in more shallow
protected areas while adults can be seen as deep as 120 feet.
Their natural diet is comprised primarily of sponges and


The adult Majestic Angelfish is a brilliantly colored fish.
The juvenile fish, similar to many of the Pomacanthus
angelfish, is mostly blue in color with white stripes. It begins
to transform into adult coloration at a relatively small size (~
2 1/2 inches). The Majestic Angelfish is one of the smaller
species of the genus and reaches a maximum adult size of
approximately 10 inches. It rarely attains this size in the
aquarium and is a slow grower; although they are reported to live
over 21 years!


The author’s Majestic Angelfish
(Pomacanthus navarchus) is cruising by a large
Tridacna derasa clam in his reef aquarium.


Joe Biesterfeld keeps a large Emperor
(P. imperator) and Blue-Faced Angel (P.
) in his magnificent 800 gallon reef

Majestic Angelfish are often seen in pairs on the reef but
also occur alone. They cannot be reliably sexed at any size so
it’s difficult to form pairs in the aquarium. The only sure
way to know if you have a compatible pair is to slowly introduce
two specimens to one another and observe their interactions. One
aquarist I met came up with an ingenious idea for creating pairs
of angelfish in his reef aquarium. He places the newest angelfish
in a basket made of egg crate (acrylic fluorescent light diffuser
material). The basket is left hanging in the main aquarium for a
few weeks so that the potential mates can interact but not damage
one another. As long as he doesn’t observe any overt
aggression between the fish, he releases the captive fish into
the main aquarium. He tells me that he’s had a good ratio of
success in establishing angelfish pairs with this technique.

Although some of the Pomacanthus angelfish have been
reared in captivity (P. maculosus & P. asfur), the
Majestic Angelfish is not one of them. Adult Majestics will
display courting behavior in the aquarium but it must be a large
and deep aquarium of at least 180 gallons. They spawn as they
ascend in the water column. The male and female encircle each
other and simultaneously release eggs and sperm at the top of
their ascent.

Although the Majestic Angelfish is one of the smaller
“large” angelfish, it still requires an aquarium of at
least 90 gallons to comfortably grow into an adult. A 135 gallon
or larger aquarium is necessary to keep an adult pair.
They’re best maintained in reef aquariums or
“reef-type” aquariums. By “reef-type”
aquarium I mean one that is decorated with live rock and
maintained as if it housed a compliment of corals. Temperature,
salinity and alkalinity should all be kept at natural reef
levels. These are sometimes called FOWLR (Fish Only With Live
Rock) aquariums. Although lighting is not critical, again I’d
recommend reef-type lighting. Majestic Angels maintained under
dim lighting in sparsely decorated or “sterile”
aquariums often develop HLLE (Head and Lateral Line Erosion).
Substrate in a Majestic Angelfish aquarium is optional, but
personally I like a two-inch deep bed of calcium-based sand for
it’s aesthetic value and because it helps foster the growth
of small life-forms that add nutritional value to the



A close-up of a Majestic Angelfish
(Pomacanthus navarchus) in adult coloration.

Majestic Angelfish are generally not picky eaters but can
sometimes be difficult to get started eating in the aquarium,
especially larger adults. If necessary, use live brine shrimp on
a temporary basis to entice them to eat. Frozen Mysis
shrimp may also stimulate their appetites and makes a good staple
food. Clams on the half shell are very tempting, as well as red
macroalgae secured by a clip or attached by rubberband to a rock.
Angelfish are used to eating sponges and other encrusting
invertebrates, so this is a nutritious and natural-appearing food


A Majestic Angelfish (Pomacanthus
) is seen swimming in another section of Joe
Biesterfeld’s 800 gallon reef aquarium.

The Majestic Angelfish is one of the more mellow
Pomacanthus angels and usually does not display
aggression towards its tankmates, with the possible exception of
other large angels and conspecifics introduced after it has
established itself. My Majestic Angelfish shares a reef aquarium
with a Flame Angelfish (Centropyge loriculus) and an
Eibl’s Angelfish (C. eibli) and it completely
ignores them. In turn, it was completely ignored by my existing
tangs, including a large Powder Blue (Acanthurus
) and Clown Tang (A. lineatus), when I
first introduced it into my reef aquarium. This surprised me a
bit because these fish are generally aggressive towards new
additions. I surmise that they didn’t perceive the angelfish
as a threat to their food supply. In addition, this angelfish has
a very different body shape and coloration relative to the tangs.
These characteristics are also cues that elicit aggression
between fish.

As with all new fish, I suggest keeping the Majestic Angelfish
in a quarantine aquarium prior to introducing it into to the
display tank. Although they aren’t particularly susceptible
to parasitic infections, they are sensitive fish that can develop
bacterial infections and occasionally suffer from eye flukes. A
period in quarantine will give you an opportunity to look for
these potential problems and treat them properly should they

  Advanced Aquarist

 Gregory Schiemer

  (19 articles)

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