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The Damselfish Is The Omnivorous Fish You Need To Raise Now

If you’re hoping to add a new fish to your saltwater aquarium, you have plenty of options to choose from. While there are lots of fish in the sea, finding the perfect fit for your environment might not always be as easy as it sounds.

Luckily, the damselfish offers the perfect solution for fishkeepers looking for a new, unique option. This fish is usually found in saltwater, but can also survive in a brackish environment. Famed and respected for its gorgeous appearance, relative hardiness, and ease of care, the damselfish might be the best saltwater fish species for your new – or preexisting – aquarium.


Damselfish Background

Photo by Dachalan

This fish belongs to the Pomacentridae family. There are over 250 species in this family, most of which are found in saltwater. Some, however, prefer to live in a brackish environment. This large group of fish has a number of subtypes with various individual behaviors, quirks, and appearances.

That being said, there are several species of damselfish that are the most popular for home aquarium hobbyists. These are the azure damselfish, the blue damselfish, yellowtail damselfish, and the domino damselfish. As a result, this article will focus primarily on raising those types of fish.

Most species of damselfish can be found in the Indian and Pacific Ocean. Native to tropical coral reefs, these lively, active fish grow to only three inches in length. There are some rarer types of damselfish, however, like the Garibaldi, that can grow to over a foot in length!

These fish are known for their bright, gorgeous coloration. However, if you are a beginning fishkeeper, you should exercise some caution, as these fish can be somewhat territorial and aggressive. While you can keep them in large groups containing members of their own species, you need to be more careful about mixing them with other species.

Damselfish are omnivores but most prefer to eat mostly meat. As a result, they are not difficult to care for. They are also incredibly versatile and as a result, are one of the best selling fish species in the United States.

This fish is durable and forgiving for novice fishkeepers. While it does need appropriate care it’s pretty difficult to harm this hardy fish species.

Damselfish Appearance And Behavior

Photo by Mike

Because there are nearly 300 different species of fish in the damselfish family, there are some quirks and differences in the appearance and behavior of these fish among members of the species. Generally, however, damselfish have deep bodies like cichlids. They possess two anal spines and a single nostril on one side of their heads. They also have forked tails. Most damselfish are very bright in color, although this color can vary from yellow, red, or even blue.

Damselfish are very colorful as juveniles, but they begin to fade as they age. This is unlike most other species, who develop more vibrant colors as they age into maturity. However, some damselfish can even become totally brown and dull as they mature! To get an idea of what your individual fish species will look like as it ages, make sure you research your specific breed.

We will outline some of the differences in appearance and behavior between the most popular damselfish varieties below.

  • Chrysiptera cyanea

Also known as the blue damselfish, this fish only grows to about three inches in length. It is bright blue, with males possessing yellow snouts and tails. Young fish and female usually don’t have the yellow coloration. When threatened, all blue damselfish turn completely black in just a few seconds.

  • Chrysiptera parasema

Referred to commonly as the yellowtail damselfish, this fish, as you might expect, has an all-yellow tail along with a blue body. This fish also grows up to three inches in length and is one of the least aggressive types of damselfish.

  • Dascyllus trimaculatus

The domino damselfish, also known as the three spot damselfish, it aptly named, sporting bright white dots all over its body. This fish grows up to five inches in length. Not only is it a larger damselfish, but it can also be more aggressive. Therefore, it is not the best species of damselfish for a novice fishkeeper.

  • Chrysiptera hemicyanea

Referred to as the azure damselfish, this fish is also known as the half-blue damselfish, too. It has a bright blue body with a yellow underbelly. It is very hardy, growing up to three inches sin length if cared for properly.

  • Stegastes partitus
Photo by Kristen Danker

Also known as the bicolor damselfish, this fish is native to the Caribbean. It has a dark gray or black front with a pale rear half. It can grow up to four inches in length and is remarkably bony.

The damselfish has a dainty name, but it’s far from being timid. The damselfish is known for being aggressive, regardless of the subspecies, and therefore you need to exercise caution when raising it with other fish. Damselfish can be so aggressive that they have sometimes been known to bite humans!

Damselfish can bully your other tank inhabitants, and can make it hard to keep multiple fish in a small tank. Even though damselfish are typically small, they have a reputation for bullying other fish in the tank and trying to claim large portions of the tank for themselves.

Damselfish will fiercely guard their territories, chasing and nipping any fish that chooses not to fight back. If you choose to keep damselfish with other kinds of fish, keep a close eye on them. You might notice that your other fish become stressed and shy, making them sick because they will stop eating.

Otherwise, if damselfish are not chasing away other members of the tank, they will spend most of their time eating. You can often find them feeding at various positions in the water column.

Damselfish Tank And Water Requirements

Photo by Underpressurephotog

Damselfish are relatively hardy saltwater fish species. As a result, there is not a lot you need to do in order to ensure that they are happy and comfortable. Setting up your tank should be quick and seamless.

Damselfish are found in tropical coral reefs. Therefore, your aquariums setup must be similar to this. These fish usually grow to around two or three inches in length and can be kept in small- to medium-sized aquariums. Blue damselfish, which are smaller damselfish, can be kept in 30 gallon aquariums. However, if you plan to keep more than one damselfish, or if you’re keeping a larger variety of fish, you will need a larger tank.

For more than one damselfish in a tank, you will need an aquarium that is a minimum of fifty gallons. If you are keeping a school of four or more fish, or a large variety of damselfish over 12 inches, you will need a tank that is no smaller than 100 gallons. Research your specific type of damselfish carefully, as putting fish in tanks that are too small can be dangerous, if not deadly.

Besides tank size, damselfish aren’t particular when it comes to their tank environment. They are hardy and can adapt to most conditions. You should keep them in water temperatures of 73 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit, with an ideal pH around 8.1 to 8.4. You should keep the gravity at 1.020 to 1.025

Without enough space, damselfish can become extremely aggressive and territorial. Therefore, make sure they have plenty of swimming room and hiding spots. The more damselfish you have in a tank, the more hiding places you will need to reduce aggression caused by territorial disputes.

What Do Damselfish Eat?

Photo by Jonathan Amato

Damselfish are very easy to feed, possessing easygoing demeanors that make it easy to give them just about any kind of food. They will eat practically anything you put into the tank.

Most damselfish are omnivores, meaning they will eat meat or plant based foods. However, the larger your damselfish is, the more meat it will prefer to consume. You should use a mixture of frozen and live meats to feed your damselfish. Some good options include shrimp, worms, brine shrimp, squid copepods, and other small pieces of fish.

You can also feed your damselfish some meat or plant-based flake foods or herbivore-specific foods. Keep in mind that fish who tend to hang out at the top of the water column tend to be larger, while those who hang out at the bottom are smaller.

Damselfish Tank Mates

If we haven’t mentioned it enough already, we’ll mention it again – damselfish are extremely aggressive. Therefore, you shouldn’t try to keep multiple species of damselfish together in the same aquarium. Only keep one species of fish per aquarium, and if you have a tiny aquarium, avoid mixing damselfish with other species at all cost – only do this in larger aquariums.

If you do have a large aquarium, there are several species you can keep with damselfish. You’ll want to stick to other aggressive or semi-aggressive fish, particularly those that are the same size or larger than the damselfish. Some to consider include dottybacks, tangs, dwarf angelfish, bottom dwelling gobies, and clownfish. Any fish that are naturally shy should not be kept with your damselfish.

You can also keep damselfish with non-fish species, like invertebrates. Exercise caution when introducing snails, shrimp, or other creatures to your tank, as damselfish do sometimes view them as prey. Researching your individual damselfish species can help you know whether this will work or not.

If you decide to keep damselfish with other species, make sure you take the time to introduce them to each other in the proper manner. Add damselfish to your aquarium last, and not as the original inhabitants. This way, your other fish will already have established their territory and your new damselfish will be less likely to take over the entire tank.

Common Damselfish Diseases

Photo by Klaus Stiefel

Disease is not uncommon in a saltwater fish tank. However, there are many steps that you can take to prevent it. The easiest way to eliminate the likelihood of disease- as well as to heal any existing disease – is to minimize stress. Provide your damselfish with a diet that is varied along with stable water temperature, good parameters, and regular cleanings. Make sure you check on your damselfish daily to make sure he or she is thriving and free from disease.

Despite these preventative measures, damselfish do sometimes get sick. There are many pathogens in your fish’s natural setting, pathogens that may be bacterial, fungal, viral, or parasitic in nature.

Some of the most common infections are bacterial. You might find that your fish comes down with vibriosis, fish tuberculosis (also known as wasting disease) or fin rot. Bacterial diseases can be prevented by removing uneaten food and conducting partial water changes on a regular basis. Some bacterial diseases require antibiotics to treat.

Viral diseases are also common. The most common virus you will find in a saltwater tank is known cauliflower or lymphocystis. This causes your fish to develop lesions that look, as you might guess, like cauliflower. This is not a fatal disease, but it is highly contagious. You will need to remove the fish immediately so that it can be quarantined.

Finally, parasitic diseases can also be found in saltwater tanks. One of the most common is marine velvet, which is caused by a protozoea. Usually, you will be able to view this infection on the gills before it spreads to the skin and develops a patchy, velvet-like appearance. It can kill a fish in as little as twelve hours if not treated. You can treat it with a freshwater dip but often you must treat an entire tank to destroy an infestation.

Breeding And Life Spans Of Damselfish

Because damselfish live for an exceptional amount of time – some damselfish have been known to live for up to 25 years! – many aquarium hobbyists wonder if they can successfully breed this unique type of fish.

While the exact breeding habits will vary amount the individual species of damselfish, most are substrate spawners, meaning they lay their adhesive eggs on the substrate. Males will prepare the spawning site by clearing off a smooth surface before the female lays her eggs.

Damselfish exhibit unique, fun to watch courting displays. The male might emit clicking sounds or swim excitedly around the female, for example. When she is ready, the female will deposit up to 20,000 tiny eggs.

Males will aggressively defend the fertilized eggs, protecting their territory even more than normal. Once the eggs hatch, which takes about seven days, the larvae will move out into the open water and feed on algae, microscopic creatures, and other fish larvae. It takes a whopping three years for some species of damselfish larvae to reach maturity!

Is A Damselfish For You?

If you’re looking for a saltwater fish species that will add years of excitement and color to your tank, you should consider the damselfish. Although this species is a bit more aggressive than some fish keepers would prefer to deal with, its gorgeous colors and its ability to be highly active in the tank all day makes it a great candidate for people who wish to add an op of excitement to their daily routines.

Make sure you research your chosen species of damselfish uncarefully. The worst thing would be to get your damselfish home from the fish store and realize that it is not compatible with the conditions you already have.

With a bit of extra care and some practice in raising the damselfish, you can raise the best saltwater fish species with ease. Looking for other ideas of fish you can raise in your saltwater tank? Be sure to check out our ultimate list of the best species here.

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