An aquarium is a place where people keep fish and other water animals. Most people who keep aquariums choose fish that live in freshwater, but many people have saltwater, or marine, aquariums. The fish in these aquariums originally came from the ocean.
The majority of the fish in saltwater aquariums are native to the warm, shallow waters along the coasts of tropical countries, especially around coral reefs. Tropical marine fish are popular with experienced aquarists (people who keep aquariums) because of their amazing variety.
Many tropical fish are brightly colored, with exciting patterns and interestingly shaped bodies. In the 1980s, clownfish became the first marine aquarium fish to be bred in quantities large enough to be sold commercially – that is, sold to pet stores and similar businesses.
Many aquarists consider them good fish for saltwater aquariums because their care is more straightforward than that of other tropical fish.
- Is a Saltwater Aquarium Right for Your Family?
- What Does a Clownfish Look Like?
- Where Do Clownfish Live in the Wild?
- What Are Different Kinds of Clownfish?
- What Should You Look for When Choosing a Clownfish?
- What Does a Clownfish Eat?
- Where Should a Pet Clownfish Be Kept?
- How Do You Make a Nice Home for Your Clownfish?
- What Else Can Be Added to Saltwater Aquariums?
- What Daily Care Is Needed?
- How Important Is Water Quality?
- How Do You Keep a Saltwater Aquarium Clean?
- How Do Clownfish Breed?
- How Can You Help Care for Clownfish Young?
- How Long Do Clownfish Live?
- How Does a Clownfish Sense Its Surroundings?
- How Are Clownfish Protected Against an Anemone’s Sting?
- Are Wild Clownfish Endangered?
- What Are Some Common Signs of Illness in Clownfish?
- How Do You Care for a Sick Pet Fish?
- What Are Your Responsibilities as an Owner?
Is a Saltwater Aquarium Right for Your Family?
Saltwater aquariums are more difficult to maintain than freshwater ones, so they are recommended for only experienced aquarists. If no one in your family has ever kept an aquarium, it is best to start with freshwater fish. Saltwater aquariums require daily care to ensure the environment is suitable for your fish.
They are also expensive to set up and maintain there are many pieces of equipment you will need to keep things running smoothly. An adult or young adult will need to learn testing procedures and spend time on maintenance and cleaning, so the job will be easier if everyone in your family helps out.
In addition, you will need patience when setting up your aquarium. The water must sit for a few weeks before you add fish. Then, fish must be introduced slowly and carefully to make sure they settle in comfortably. Before your family sets up a saltwater aquarium, be sure everyone is on board with this difficult but rewarding project.
What Does a Clownfish Look Like?
Most species (kinds) of clownfish are orange, red, or yellow. They often have white or black markings along the body, or a combination of these colors. The common clownfish is orange with white stripes outlined with a thin black line.
The largest clownfish grow from 4 to 6 1/2 inches (10 to 17 centimeters) long. Clownfish have many features in common with other fish. All fish have a backbone, which supports the body. A fish’s body is covered with scales bony plates that protect the body. Fish also have other body parts that help them live in the water.
These include fins, which they use for swimming and for balance, and gills, which they use to breathe oxygen in the water. The shape of a fish’s body and other traits are determined by the life it leads. For example, fish that swim fast for long distances may have bullet-shaped bodies. Clownfish almost always stay in a small area, so their bodies are less streamlined.
Where Do Clownfish Live in the Wild?
Wild clownfish live in coral reefs in the Pacific and Indian oceans. A coral reef is a structure made by tiny animals called corals. The corals attach themselves to the sea floor in groups, or colonies. When they die, their skeletons pile up and slowly change to limestone (a rocky material).Many fish and other sea creatures make their home in coral reefs.
Clownfish typically hide among sea anemones colorful sea animals that resemble flowering plants. In fact, clownfish are also called anemonefish because their relationship to these animals is so important to their survival.
Sea anemones have stinging cells on their tentacles (feelers), but clownfish are coated with a kind of mucus (slimy substance) that protects them. Other fish can’t go near the tentacles of an anemone, so clownfish are safe there from hunting animals. Clownfish help sea anemones by eating wastes and parasites that might bother them. They also scare away attackers and give bits of food to their anemone host.
What Are Different Kinds of Clownfish?
There are 28 known species of clownfish. Some species are named for the region where they are from, such as the Barrier Reef clownfish, the Australian clownfish, and the Chagos clownfish. Others have names that match their appearance. For example, the skunk clownfish has a white stripe running across the top of its body. The tomato clownfish is dark orange or red.
Several species of clownfish are available tank- raised and are considered good for saltwater aquariums. The common clownfish (also called the clown-anemonefish), which features the classic orange-and-white stripes, is the most popular species. Clark’s clownfish looks similar to the common clownfish, and is known for being hardy that is, strong and tough. Other popular species include the saddleback clownfish, the maroon clownfish, the percula clownfish, and the cinnamon clownfish.
What Should You Look for When Choosing a Clownfish?
Before purchasing a clownfish, your family should research different species and make a list of ones that match your family’s skill level and interests. Also, determine how many clownfish you wish to buy Many experts suggest purchasing a mated pair (a male and a female).
Once you have decided what kind of clownfish you would like, look for a responsible dealer who sells marine fish. Many dealers sell tank-raised clownfish, which helps prevent wild clownfish and their habitats from being harmed. Never buy wild clownfish unless they have been certified (approved) by the Marine Aquarium Council (MAC). The dealer should be glad to tell you where the fish came from.
If possible, buy your fish from a local store rather than by mail order. At a store, you can see what the fish look like and how they behave. A healthy clownfish should look lively, brightly colored, and alert. Avoid fish that have dull colors, drooping fins, or are breathing heavily, which may be signs of illness.
What Does a Clownfish Eat?
Clownfish eat both plant matter and seafood, so they are said to be omnivores. Giving your pet clownfish a variety of foods will help to keep it healthy. This might include pellet or flake fish food formulated for saltwater fish, freeze-dried krill, fresh or frozen brine shrimp, and zooplankton (tiny sea animals).
The algae growing in the tank should supply all the plant matter your clownfish needs. Follow the instructions on the packages for rehydrating dried items or thawing frozen ones before feeding. Feed your clownfish in the morning and the evening. Slowly sprinkle in as much as they will eat in about five minutes. After one or two hours, use a net to scoop any leftovers out of the water.
Where Should a Pet Clownfish Be Kept?
Your fish must be kept in a saltwater aquarium outfitted with the equipment needed to keep the water clean, warm, and with plenty of oxygen. Your family will also need equipment to check the level of salt and other substances. Listed below are a few pieces of equipment that every saltwater aquarium needs:
- Glass tank (at least 30 gallons or 113.6 liters for two fish)
- Tank cover
- Water heater
- Water filters
- Air pump
- Fluorescent lights
- Prepackaged salt mix
Glass tanks can be very expensive and go up in price with size, but it is essential that your tank be large enough for the number of animals living in it.
How Do You Make a Nice Home for Your Clownfish?
When designing spaces inside the aquarium, try to recreate a clownfish’s coral reef environment. For fish-only tanks, you can get models of coral. (Real coral must be carefully cleaned and may have been harvested illegally, so it is not recommended for your tank.) Arrange the coral pieces in ways that provide different nooks and crannies where your clownfish can hide.
You will need to cover the bottom of your tank with gravel. Coral gravel or crushed oyster shell are two good choices for marine aquariums. You can also ask your dealer for other recommendations.
After about a week, you may notice a slimy green substance called algae growing on the coral. Algae is a plantlike organism that clownfish like to eat. It is best to leave the algae on the coral, though you may remove it from the tank glass. To prevent algae from growing uncontrollably, keep a snail in the tank. Snails are big algae-eaters.
What Else Can Be Added to Saltwater Aquariums?
A clownfish’s natural habitat is filled with many different kinds of invertebrates (animals without backbones), including anemones, corals, sponges, and sea urchins. Some people add these animals to their aquariums to try to recreate a clownfish’s coral reef habitat.
In fact, clownfish are happiest when they have anemones in the tank. However, reef aquariums are very difficult to maintain and are recommended only for expert marine aquarium keepers. For the less experienced marine aquarists, a fish-only tank is best. Clownfish can live peacefully in a tank with certain kinds of fish, but make sure your family has had time to learn how to keep your fish healthy and happy before taking this next step.
You must consider several things, such as how large your tank is, how big the fish will get, what it eats, and whether the fish is aggressive toward other fish. If your family wishes to add different fish to your tank, ask your dealer for recommendations.
What Daily Care Is Needed?
Several kinds of daily care are needed for clownfish and their aquarium:
- Feed your fish twice a day, and remove any uneaten food. Also, observe your fish for any signs of illness. Clownfish should be alert and eager to eat. A lack of appetite may mean your fish is sick.
- The aquarium lights should be turned on for 10 to 12 hours each day, with 14 to 12 hours of darkness. You can purchase an automatic timer for your lights to ensure the appropriate day-night cycle.
- The water temperature should stay between 75° and 80°F (24° and 27°C). Check the tank thermometer and adjust the heater if necessary.
- You must also check the water level in the tank every day. If you notice the level has lowered, add purified freshwater – NOT salt water. When the water in the tank evaporates (changes from a liquid to a gas), the salt stays in the tank. Adding fresh water will help balance the level of salt.
How Important Is Water Quality?
Keeping the right chemical balance in the aquarium is essential to your clownfish’s survival. A young adult or adult should perform regular tests to ensure the chemical balance of the water is suitable for your fish.
Prepackaged sea salt mixes are available at most pet stores. Follow the instructions to mix the correct amount of sea salt with purified water. Your family may want to store prepared salt water in a cool, dry place for when you need to replace the tank water.
A device called a hydrometer will allow you to measure salt levels in the aquarium. Your family will also need to do other chemistry tests, such as measuring pH and the levels of ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates. Each of these elements must be at just the right level to keep your clownfish happy and healthy. The water should be tested every day for the first two to three months and every one to two weeks once the tank is established. Your dealer should be able to recommend test kits.
How Do You Keep a Saltwater Aquarium Clean?
A messy bedroom might not be a big deal, but a dirty aquarium is a life-or-death matter for fish. Because of this, saltwater aquariums should be cleaned often. Aquarium water can be contaminated with harmful salmonella bacteria, so only an adult or young adult should handle cleaning the tank.
The aquarium glass should be scrubbed once a week. Every two to four weeks, the filters in the tank should be cleaned and wastes removed from the gravel on the tank floor. Pet stores sell special vacuums for this process.
Every week or two, about 10 to 20 percent of the water should be removed and replaced with prepared saltwater. Many people use a long hose and a bucket to remove the water, but pet stores also sell other kinds of equipment for this task. Experts recommend replacing half of the water if your tests show there is a problem or if your fish look sick or upset.
How Do Clownfish Breed?
Interestingly, all clownfish begin life as males. As they mature, the largest fish in a small group becomes a female who can lay eggs. The second biggest fish becomes a male who can fertilize the eggs – the others cannot. If the female dies, the breeding male becomes the female, and the next biggest fish takes his place.
A female clownfish lays her eggs on a surface, such as a rock. The male fertilizes and guards the eggs, fanning them with his tail to give them oxygen. The eggs start out orange and become see-through until the babies’ eyes are visible. They hatch in 6 to 15 days, always in the dark.
How Can You Help Care for Clownfish Young?
A comfortably settled mated pair of clownfish will often spawn (lay and fertilize eggs) in an aquarium, Raising the young is complicated, though. For that, your family will need a separate tank with plenty of oxygen and heat.
Some people move the eggs to a separate tank just before hatching; others wait until right afterward. Newly hatched fish, or larvae, need live food. Start with rotifers (dust-speck-sized aquatic creatures). After five days, feed them brine shrimp. Do not worry if many of the little fish die – that happens in nature, too.
You have done a terrific job if even a few survive. After about three months, find the fish new homes in pairs or as singles. Adult clownfish become aggressive toward one another in large groups.
How Long Do Clownfish Live?
It is difficult to say how long clownfish live since so many factors affect this. Of course, you cannot know how old a wild-caught fish is when you buy it – another reason to get tank-raised fish. Generally, clownfish have a longer life span than other saltwater aquarium fish, many of which live only about 2 to 4 years.
Assuming a clownfish lives in a smoothly running aquarium, it may live between 4 and 10 years. Some aquarists report having clownfish that are much older than the upper estimate. In addition, a 2006 study found that the percula clownfish in a New Guinea lagoon may be 30 years old.
How Does a Clownfish Sense Its Surroundings?
Fish have the same senses you do – they can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. They also have a sensory organ (body part), unlike anything people have. It is called the lateral line, and it helps fish sense changes in the movement of water.
Clownfish use their senses in many different ways. Scientists believe that clownfish larvae use their sense of smell to find their way back to the coral reefs where they were born. In the wild, after clownfish hatch from their eggs, the sea carries the tiny larvae into the open waters.
Later, if they are lucky enough to grow up, the larvae swim back to the reef Clownfish use hearing, too. They make chirping and popping noises to scare predators and to communicate with one another. Their sense of sight is also important. Aquarium keepers whose clownfish become blind because of disease report that when the fish cannot see food, they stop eating.
How Are Clownfish Protected Against an Anemone’s Sting?
Clownfish are one of the only fish species that is not harmed by a sea anemone’s sting. But clownfish are not born with this protection. They develop their immunity (resistance) to an anemone’s sting over time.
Once a young clownfish has chosen its host anemone, it does a kind of dance to expose itself gradually to the anemone and prepare the layer of mucus that provides protection from the stings. Over several days, the clownfish slowly increases the amount of time it spends in the anemone’s tentacles.
During this time, the anemone’s stinging cells mix with the clownfish’s slimy coating. Once a clownfish’s mucus is completely mixed with the anemone’s cells, it has the same dangerous mucus as its host.
Are Wild Clownfish Endangered?
Clownfish are not endangered, but they depend on their coral reef habitats. Tragically, coral reefs throughout the world are seriously endangered by pollution (human-made wastes) and other human activities – including gathering fish and corals for pet stores.
If these habitats disappear, so may the clownfish and thousands of species of fish and other animals that depend on them. Though clownfish are not endangered, the number of wild clownfish has dropped drastically in the past 10 years.
This is partly because people are catching more wild clownfish to meet the growing demand of the pet trade. In 2003, an animated Disney movie called Finding Nemo, which starred a talking clownfish, became a box office hit.
Some experts believe that Finding Nemo’s popularity could have caused more people to want clownfish as pets, even though the movie was about Nemo’s struggle to escape his aquarium and make it back home to his coral reef.
What Are Some Common Signs of Illness in Clownfish?
Observe your fish carefully every day for signs of illness. A healthy fish should have clear, alert eyes. Its skin and fins should be smooth, without bumps or broken areas, and its mouth should not hang open. It should swim upright in the water.
Common signs of illness include a lack of appetite, unusually fast breathing, abnormal swimming behavior, lack of movement, and rubbing or twitching of the body or fins. Other symptoms include abnormal or dull coloration, white spots, cloudy eyes, and holes or lesions on the body.
Health problems are often caused by harmful parasites, which are more likely to be carried in on wild-caught fish than tank-raised ones. Saltwater, or marine, ich (IHK) is common; it shows up as white spots on the skin. Clownfish are especially vulnerable to a parasitic protozoan, Brooklynella hostilis. In fact, the infestation is sometimes called clownfish disease.
How Do You Care for a Sick Pet Fish?
If your clownfish get sick, move it to a separate tank – this is called quarantine. With luck, you will prevent its aquarium mates from getting sick, too. Usually, treatment involves adding chemicals to the water in the tank or changing the salt content of the water.
You might also briefly “dip” the fish in a specially treated water, then return it to the regular saltwater. Fish do not need to have regular visits to a veterinarian but, if they get sick, it is ideal to get a doctor’s advice. Not all veterinarians are trained to treat fish. See if you can find one in your area. If not, your family can try consulting staff at a zoo, city aquarium, or good pet store.
What Are Your Responsibilities as an Owner?
Before you take on the responsibilities of keeping a saltwater aquarium, you should understand that it is a big commitment. The creatures in your tank depend completely on you and your family for survival. You must learn how to set up the tank and keep all the equipment in good working order.
Your family members will need to share the work of cleaning the aquarium, feeding the fish and monitoring their health, and providing any necessary medical treatment. Enthusiastic aquarium keepers often feel that their fish have engaging personalities. Still, fish and invertebrate animals are not cuddly like dogs and cats. The appeal of an aquarium is really about observing and appreciating the fascinating underwater world you have created.
Hi, my name is Sean, and I’m the primary writer on the site. I’m blogging mostly about freshwater and saltwater aquariums, fish, invertebrates, and plants. I’m experienced in the fishkeeping hobby for many years. Over the years I have kept many tanks, and have recently begun getting more serious in wanting to become a professional aquarist. All my knowledge comes from experience and reading forums and a lot of informative sites. In pursuit of becoming a professional, I also want to inspire as many people as I can to pick up this hobby and keep the public interest growing.
Read more about Sean.
Please join also my Facebook group.