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Finding Dory: How to Care for a Clownfish (“Nemo”) in a Saltwater Aquarium

  • Jeff Johnston
  • Jun 10, 2016

With Finding Dory coming out, we wanted to give you guys some important tips for keeping clown fish happy and healthy in your aquarium.

The cartoon character Nemo was inspired by an Ocellaris Clown fish. Thanks to the Pixar movies, clown fish have become the most iconic marine aquarium fish. What some of you may not know is that there are actually two different species of clown fish that look very similar; the Ocellaris and Percula clown fish.  Behavior and care requirements for these fish are very similar. The common name “Clown fish” can actually be used to reference any one of the thirty different species in this family of fishes.

The cool thing about these classic orange, black and white colored fish is that they are a very sustainable aquarium animal. Many of the clown fish that you see in local fish stores are captive-bred; which significantly reduces the impact on the environment.

Another positive result of captive-breeding is the creation of designer clown fish. Many of these clown fish sport amazing patterns, coloration and other physical traits that make them even more desirable to hobbyists. Main Blizzard, Picasso, Mocha Ice and DaVinci are just some of the unique names given to these designer clown fish.

Clown fish are also called anemone fish because they form a symbiotic relationship with sea anemones that is mutually beneficial.  Clown fish have evolved to become resilient to the harsh stings of sea anemones and spend their lives living amongst the tentacles of the anemone.  The stinging tentacles of the anemone wards off clown fish predators; while the clown fish provide nutrients for the anemone and keep other pesky fish from harming the anemone.

The fascinating behavior of forming a relationship with an anemone can be achieved in an aquarium but it seems that clown fish are not all that picky in terms of what they host.  We have witnessed clown fish host in various types of corals including Frogspawn, Flowerpot corals, Large Mushrooms, Leathers, Xenia and even hair algae!  On the flip side, some clown fish refuse to host inside anything no matter what you have in the tank.

Clown fish grow to be a maximum size of about 4” long and can easily kept in an aquarium that is 20 gallons or larger.  They can be kept alone or in pairs. Keeping them in groups or harems is possible but can be very challenging because aggression will grow amongst the fish as they mature.

Clown fish are one of the best and most popular fish for first time saltwater aquarists.  They are very hardy and easily adapt to an aquarium environment.  They are quite territorial especially if they are breeding so if you plan to keep other fish in the tank, be sure the tank is plenty big enough to give the clown fish some breathing room.

Many hobbyists keep clown fish in mated pairs and it is not uncommon for clown fish to breed inside your tank. However, the babies that hatch will quickly be eaten by both their parents and other fish in the tank if the eggs are not removed to a separate breeding tank.  Raising clown fish fry can be a little tricky because the proper food for baby clown fish is difficult to provide in the appropriate amounts while keeping optimal water conditions.

Clownfish are naturally omnivorous and feed mostly on zooplankton and the occasional anemone tentacle.  Feeding a variety of frozen and prepared flake or pellets foods works great for clown fish. Once established into an aquarium they are vigorous eaters and are not picky.

The work of Disney Pixar has really inspired a whole new generation of aquarium hobbyists.  All of us here at MD do our very best to ensure long happy lives for the animals in our aquariums and strive to provide you with the best information to help make your aquarium experience a success.

– Take Care and Happy Reefkeeping.

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