Clownfish and Anemone

Clownfish and Anemone Relationship….

I have seen a lot of misinformation out there about the symbiotic relationship between the clown and anemone. There are many species of clownfish and just as many of anemones.  I am going to break this down by first discussing the fish, then the20160404_131306[1] anemones, and then the relationship. I hope to clear up some of the misconceptions and false information that could be harmful to your aquarium. The biggest piece of poor info is that a clownfish will not host a sick or dying anemone. That is not true. A clownfish will host a sick anemone and will continue to try and host it after it is dead. I have personally seen a clownfish eat a dead anemone it once hosted.


Clownfish, anemonefish, or clown anemonefish, whatever you call them they are in the family Pomacentridae genus Amphiprion. There is one in the genus Premnus.  There are a total of 30 types of clownfish including the one in Premnus. I know this is useless info for the hobbyist but just wanted you to be informed. In the pet trade you are going to run into a few species and those are the ones we’ll focus on. In clownfish the females are the largest and the breeding male is second largest. Any other fishes in the group are males and more submissive. If anything should happen to the female the largest male then becomes a female and the next largest male becomes the breeding male. In addition you should avoid mixing species of clownfish. Though they are normally docile they are not so nice among themselves. If you do plan to have more than one species of clownfish I recommend you have enough space to provide at least 8 feet of distance between the 2. I have seen a tomato clown come across a 6 ft tank to harass an ocellaris.

Percula and Ocellaris

When most people think of clownfish they think of Finding Nemo. The bright pretty orange, white, and black fish living in an anemone. This is the usually the Percula, which is the most common species in the pet trade. The Ocellaris is very similar to the True Percula and is also none as the False Percula. The difference is one dorsal spine, Amphiprion percula has 10 spines and sometimes 9 but most of the 20160404_130906[1]time 10. The Amphiprion ocellaris has 11 spines and sometimes 10 although rare. For all intents and purposes they are basically the same species. You will have some people tell you that is totally wrong but they truly are. They can interbreed and many hobbyist and breeders breed the 2 to get “designer” fish. I have an onyx clown which is a Percula and an ocellaris. I got the Percula first  then the ocellaris when the first was about 2 inches. They both where young and it’s the only way I would have done it. The one with a lot of black is the percula. They can reach over 7 inches  and be as small as 3.5 inches.

Tomato Clown

Tomato_Clownfish (1) Amphiprion frenatus or tomato clown is another species of clown commonly found in the pet trade. They range from a reddish orange color to a dark deep red or maroon. They can reach over 5 inches long and are the most aggressive of the clownfish. in the Tomato complex there are 5 species. They are identified by a single stripe around the back of the head. All except for the red clownfish or also called the saddleback clown. Tomato clowns are a hardy species and are good for the first time marine aquarium owner. Just remember they can be aggressive and once established will bully other tank mates. I have witnessed this fishes territorial aggression and seen it repeatedly attack a person putting their hand in the tank.


Maroon Clownfish

Premnus biaculeatus is another species common to the pet trade. They are also known as spine-cheeked clownfish. Maroon clownfish can grow over 6 and a half inches and their color ranges from dark maroon to brown with varying color stripes from white to yellow depending on geographic location. In my opinion these are among some of the Spinecheek_anemonefishmost beautiful clownfish. If you have an opportunity check out the lightening maroon project. They are amazingly beautiful. It is a captive breeding project that is very cool. These are also fairly aggressive and should not be introduced to a tank with clownfish already in it. Never mix species of clownfish in an aquarium unless you can provide at least 8 feet of space. Maroon clownfish are also very hardy and make a good first time aquarium owner.

Lightening Maroon Project





Saddleback ClownfishAmphiprion_polymnus_1

Amphiprion polymnus is one of the smaller clownfish at only a little over 5 inches. In addition the males of this species are nearly the same size as the females. Their colors range from yellow to brown and have 2 to 3 white bars. They have a round body shape and are compressed laterally. These clownfish are not as common as the others.




There are lots of species of anemones most of which you don’t find in the pet trade. Since this page is about the relationship between clowns and anemones we will concentrate on those species. There are about 10 to 12 species that will host clownfish. We will hit on some of the most common ones found in the pet trade and what fish will host them. Anemones are related to coral and have special demands and requirements as far as water conditions are concerned. They have a basal disk that is the foot with which it attaches itself. The body is tubular ending in the mouth that is also its anus. There can be from tens to hundreds of tentacles used to gather food and contain stinging cells. Most anemones have a internal symbiotic relationship with zooxanthellae. They are a type of algae that turns sunlight into food for the anemones similar to the way chlorophyll works in plants.

Atlantic Anemone

20160405_122822[1]Condylactis also known as the Condy, Caribbean, or Long Tentacle Anemone. These are by far the most common anemone in the pet trade and the least expensive. They do well in aquariums and are very hardy as far as anemones go. You will want to supplement their diet with small pieces of fish or muscle. They will also take shrimp just be sure to feed marine animals not fresh water. As a general rule clownfish do not host these anemones but my percula clown is hosting one right now. I have also seen maroon clowns and ocellaris host them. Some of these species can grow quite large so please be sure you can house what you are buying.


Bubble Tip Anemones

Entacmaea quadricolor or Bubble Tip Anemone is another popular type of anemone common to the pet trade. These are like the goats milk(can raise any animal) of anemones, all clownfish will host them. BTA’s are one of my personal20160310_182125 favorites. I once had one that was half white and half blue. These anemone can get a pretty good size, mine reached nearly the size of a dinner plate before budding. Which brings me to my next point. Bubble tips can over populate your aquarium and can do this by budding off. They have high light requirements and can move about your aquarium without notice. It can be in one place for a month then one morning you wake up and it’s on the other side of the tank. Being that these anemones often move around the aquarium, I highly recommend shielding your filter intake because these anemones have a way of getting stuck in them. The last thing you want is a dead anemone in your aquarium.

Magnificent Anemone

Radianthus magnifica are among some of the most beautiful anemones and my absolute favorite.  It used to be known as  Heteractis magnifica or Ritteri Anemone. In some places is still called ritteri.  This anemone grows large so a large aquarium is needed. The magnificent anemone can reach a foot in diameter. They usually have a purple base and long tentacles. They usually have tentacles in groups of 6 and are in concentric circles radiating out of the body from the mouth. This Anemone is not as easy to keep as the BTA and Atlantic. It takes longer to acclimate and they are much more sensitive than other anemones. Their tentacles are lighter at the tips than the body of the tentacle. The magnificent anemone will host most species of clownfish. They can gather most of what they need from the light but would do well with substitution in their diet. Their light needs are substantial and like moderate current.


Carpet Anemones

Stichodactyla haddoni, the carpet anemone can be very large anemones. Carpet anemones require a lot of room and a space away from your corals. They come from the Red Sean and Indo Pacific. They naturally host the saddle back clownfish and interestingly it doesn’t live on the reef itself. The carpet 1024px-Carpet_sea_anemone



anemone with its short tentacles prefers a soft or sandy bottom. Like all anemones they need plenty of light but carpets probably more than other species. As you can see their colors can vary greatly and can be quite stunning. I can’t help it I love these to. I want to add one of these so badly. A place near me called King of Corals has a few I have been looking at. Carpet anemones can be very predatory but can also host clownfish. Be they can eat fish and other invertebrates.




How to get your clown host your anemone

There are several methods you can explore to get you r clownfish to host your anemone. If your clownfish was in first, put the anemone in the area of the aquarium your clown hangs out in. Sometimes they will go to it right away sometimes your clown may need to warm up to the idea. My clown was stubborn it took me catching him in the middle of the night and putting him a small breeding enclosure for her to go in. She always favored the right, front corner of the aquarium. So I bought a small breeding enclosure that hung on the inside of the aquarium made of fine mesh. Then I put in the anemone and that night caught the clown and put them together in her favorite corner. You can also try feeding the anemone and not the fish and the fish will follow the food. By the way I did not do that with the Atlantic anemone. I did it with a bubble tip. The Atlantic’s have always been in there and the clowns never bothered them. That was for over 2 months. A few weeks after my BTA died the percula took up host the Atlantic anemone.



  • Rock says:

    Hi Adam,

    When I read your title page, the first thing that came to mind was ‘Nemo’! It was such an informative and detailed article, I was taken aback that there are few other kinds of Nemo out there. I love aquariums and I used to have one, freshwater only because it’s easier to maintain. But I wouldn’t mind owning a saltwater aquarium too.

    Thanks for sharing this, I’m sure it will be useful for me once I get a new one soon. Bookmarked!


    • Adam says:


      Thanks for stopping by. One of the great things about the “Nemo” clown is that they easily bred in captivity. So the movie didn’t cause harm to the species in the wild. Unfortunately the Blue Tang named Dori is not. Most new aquarium owners want to emulate what they see in the movie not realizing that these fish are taken from the wild and most of them die before ever reaching the pet store. Not to mention that these fish can grow over 10 inches long and are to big for most home aquariums.

      Again thanks for stopping by

  • Renee Townsend says:

    Before I met my husband, he had salt water tank. He’s always talking about the different fish and coral he had in his tank. And it’s always fun going to the aquarium and pointing out Nemo to my son. He’s getting rather older now, and I think he’s growing out of the fascination with cartoon characters made real. Anyway… maybe one day we can set up a tank for my husband again. Turn his memories into a reality.

    • Adam says:

      That would be fantastic setting up a marine aquarium. If you set one up trust me when I say you will love it just as much as your husband. Not only are they relaxing but they are addicting. Thank you for checking out my page. I am adding to it all the time.

  • Steph says:

    This was actually a super cool read. You seriously know a lot about these fish – I was actually really impressed! I don’ t have an aquarium myself, but I’ve always loved fish!

    They are honestly so beautiful and fascinating.I didn’t know there were so many types of clown fish, and I definitely didn’t know that the females are actually the leaders. That’s pretty cool! I definitely learned something new today!

    • Adam says:

      I am glad you enjoyed it. If I can spread just a little of my passion. There are several species of marine fish that follow the same hierarchy. Thank you for taking the time to look at my page Steph

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