Clownfish Care Guide: Tank Setup, Feeding, Breeding & More

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I find great joy in caring for clownfish. These fish are lively and display distinct behaviors, which adds a delightful touch to different aquarium setups.

However, when I first started with clownfish, I had many inquiries.

How do I properly look after them? What’s the best arrangement for their aquarium? What kind of water conditions are optimal for them?

This article is a comprehensive guide on how to care for clownfish.

I’ll cover everything you need to know, from start to finish, to make sure your clownfish receives the outstanding care it needs. Let’s dive right into it.

Clownfish: Quick Overview

Clownfish are a captivating and hardy species, known for their symbiotic relationship with sea anemones.

These colorful fish are a favorite among aquarists due to their unique behaviors and relatively easy care requirements.

  • Water Requirements: Clownfish need saltwater aquariums with a pH of 8.1-8.4 and temperatures between 75-82°F. Consistent water quality and salinity are essential for their well-being.
  • Lifespan: In a well-maintained aquarium, clownfish can live for 6-10 years, with their longevity heavily influenced by the quality of their environment and care.
  • Ideal Group Size: They are best kept in pairs or small groups in larger tanks; in smaller tanks, a single pair is recommended to avoid territorial conflicts.
  • Feeding Habits: These fish are omnivores, requiring a mix of meaty foods like shrimp and vegetable matter. A balanced diet is crucial for their health and coloration.
  • Breeding Behavior: Clownfish are known for their unique breeding, where they lay eggs close to their host anemone. Successful breeding requires stable tank conditions.
  • Tank Setup: A minimum tank size of 20 gallons is recommended, with ample hiding spots and an anemone to replicate their natural habitat for comfort and security.

Common Types of Clownfish

Clownfish are not just limited to the iconic orange and white stripes; there are several species, each with distinct patterns and colors.

These variations make them a diverse group, appealing to a wide range of aquarists.

  • Percula Clownfish: Known for their bright orange color with distinctive white bands, Percula clownfish are popular and can grow up to 3 inches in length.
  • Maroon Clownfish: The largest of the species, they can reach 6 inches and are notable for their deep red color and thicker white bands.
  • Ocellaris Clownfish: Often confused with the Percula, Ocellaris are slightly smaller and have more rounded black edges on their white bands.
  • Skunk Clownfish: Characterized by a white stripe running from their nose to the tail, Skunk clownfish have a more elongated body and are less aggressive.
  • Tomato Clownfish: These are larger and predominantly red with a single white band behind their eyes. They are hardy but can be more territorial than others.
Percula Clownfish
Maroon Clownfish
Ocellaris Clownfish
Skunk Clownfish
Tomato Clownfish

How to Care for Clownfish

Let’s start by looking into the important care needs for clownfish, beginning with the correct way to set up their tank:

Clownfish Tank Setup

1. Tank Size

The size of the tank is vital for the well-being of clownfish. A minimum of 20 gallons is recommended for a pair, with larger sizes offering more benefits.

  • Space for Swimming: A 20-gallon tank provides ample space for swimming and exploring, essential for the physical and mental health of clownfish.
  • Room for Growth: Larger tanks, like 30 gallons or more, accommodate growth and reduce the need for frequent upgrades as the fish mature.
  • Territorial Behavior: Larger tanks (40+ gallons) help mitigate territorial disputes among clownfish and other tank mates, promoting harmony.
  • Additional Inhabitants: A tank size of 50 gallons or more allows for diverse species cohabitation, creating a more dynamic and interesting marine environment.

2. Water Temperature

Clownfish thrive in specific temperature ranges, and maintaining these is essential. The ideal temperature range is 75-82°F (24-28°C).

  • Stable Environment: Consistent temperatures support vital biological processes and reduce stress, keeping clownfish healthy and active.
  • Avoiding Stress: Fluctuations beyond 2-3°F can stress clownfish; thus, a reliable heater and a backup are crucial in colder climates.
  • Heating Equipment: Using a submersible heater rated for the tank’s volume ensures a stable temperature, with a 50-watt heater typically suitable for a 20-gallon tank.
  • Regular Monitoring: An accurate digital thermometer should be used for daily checks to ensure the temperature remains within the ideal range.

3. Saltwater

Proper salinity is key for a clownfish tank, and it should be maintained between 1.020 and 1.026 specific gravity.

  • Salinity Maintenance: Regular checks with a refractometer ensure salinity levels are kept within the ideal range, crucial for clownfish health.
  • Water Changes: Routine water changes (10-15% weekly) help maintain the correct salinity and remove waste products from the tank.
  • Top-Off Water: Using distilled or RO (reverse osmosis) water for top-offs helps maintain salinity, as tap water can introduce harmful chemicals.
  • Monitoring Equipment: Investing in a good quality refractometer provides accurate salinity readings, essential for the long-term health of the tank’s inhabitants.

4. Live Rock

Live rock provides numerous benefits in a clownfish tank, such as biological filtration and natural habitat simulation.

  • Natural Filtration: Live rock harbors beneficial bacteria that aid in breaking down waste products, enhancing the tank’s natural filtration system.
  • Habitat Simulation: It creates a naturalistic environment, mimicking the clownfish’s wild habitat, which helps in reducing stress and encouraging natural behavior.
  • Aesthetic Appeal: Besides functionality, live rock adds aesthetic value to the tank, creating a visually appealing underwater landscape.
  • Quantity Guidelines: Approximately 1-1.5 pounds of live rock per gallon is recommended to achieve both biological and aesthetic benefits.

5. Filtration System

An efficient filtration system is crucial for maintaining water quality in a clownfish tank.

  • Biological Filtration: A good filter should provide ample space for beneficial bacteria to grow, essential for breaking down ammonia and nitrites.
  • Mechanical Filtration: It should also mechanically remove debris from the water, keeping the tank clean and reducing the risk of disease.
  • Capacity Consideration: The filter should be rated for at least 2-3 times the volume of the tank to ensure adequate filtration.
  • Regular Maintenance: Consistent filter maintenance, including cleaning and media replacement, is essential for long-term health and water clarity.

6. Protein Skimmer

A protein skimmer is an essential component in a clownfish tank, helping to remove organic compounds and maintain water quality.

  • Organic Waste Removal: Protein skimmers effectively remove dissolved organic compounds, reducing the load on the biological filter and improving water clarity.
  • Oxygenation: Besides cleaning, skimmers also help oxygenate the water, which is crucial for the health of clownfish and other marine life.
  • Size and Capacity: Choose a skimmer rated for at least the full volume of your tank; for a 20-gallon tank, a skimmer rated for 20-30 gallons is ideal.
  • Regular Maintenance: Cleaning the collection cup and adjusting the air flow regularly ensures the skimmer operates efficiently and effectively.

7. Lighting

Proper lighting is crucial in a clownfish tank, not only for aesthetic reasons but also for the health of the tank’s inhabitants.

  • Spectrum and Intensity: Full-spectrum LED lights are ideal as they mimic natural sunlight, which is important for the well-being of clownfish and any live plants or corals.
  • Photoperiod: A consistent light cycle of around 10-12 hours per day simulates a natural day-night cycle, crucial for the biological rhythms of marine life.
  • Coral Growth: If you have corals, ensure the lighting is strong enough to support their growth, as they rely on light for photosynthesis.
  • Adjustable Settings: Lighting systems with adjustable intensity and color settings allow you to create a natural and dynamic environment that can change throughout the day.

8. Tank Mates

Selecting compatible tank mates for clownfish is important to maintain a harmonious and stress-free environment.

  • Temperament Matching: Choose tank mates with a similar temperament; peaceful fish like gobies and cardinalfish are good choices.
  • Size Considerations: Avoid large or aggressive fish that may bully or harm the clownfish. Similarly sized or smaller, non-aggressive species are preferable.
  • Community Balance: In a community tank, observe the interactions regularly to ensure no fish is being harassed or outcompeted for food.
  • Species-Specific Needs: Research each potential tank mate’s specific needs and compatibility to ensure a balanced and healthy aquarium ecosystem.

To make things easier, here are some compatible tank mates you can choose for your clownfish:

  • Royal Gramma
  • Firefish
  • Cleaner Shrimp
  • Banggai Cardinalfish
  • Neon Goby
  • Yellow Watchman Goby
  • Banded Coral Shrimp
  • Blue-Green Chromis
  • Longnose Hawkfish
  • Sea Urchins
Neon Goby

On the other hand, avoid aggressive species like:

  • Damsel Fish
  • Triggerfish
  • Pufferfish
  • Lionfish
  • Groupers
  • Butterflyfish
  • Wrasses
  • Eels
  • Blennies
  • Parrotfish
Damsel Fish

9. Water Tests

Regular water testing is essential in a clownfish tank to monitor and maintain optimal water conditions.

  • Key Parameters: Regularly test for ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, pH, and salinity. Ammonia and nitrites should always be at 0, while nitrates should be kept low.
  • Frequency: Testing weekly is a good practice, especially for new tanks. For established tanks, testing every two weeks can be sufficient.
  • Reliable Test Kits: Use high-quality test kits for accurate results. Digital testers can provide more precise readings than traditional test strips.
  • Record Keeping: Keep a log of your test results to track changes over time, which can help in early detection of potential problems.

10. Anemones

Anemones provide a natural and beneficial environment for clownfish, but they require specific care.

  • Tank Stability: Anemones should only be added to well-established tanks (at least 6-12 months old) as they require stable water conditions.
  • Lighting Requirements: Anemones need strong lighting to thrive, similar to that required for coral growth, as they rely on photosynthesis.
  • Feeding: Feed anemones small pieces of fish or shrimp every couple of weeks. Overfeeding can lead to water quality issues.
  • Placement: Carefully place anemones away from powerheads and tank edges to prevent them from getting damaged or causing harm to themselves.

Here are some suitable anemones for clownfish:

Bubble Tip AnemonePopular for vibrant colors; suitable for many clownfish species.
Carpet AnemoneLarge and colorful, providing spacious hosting area.
Magnificent Sea AnemoneImpressive size, preferred by larger clownfish species.
Long Tentacle AnemoneLong, flowing tentacles create a dramatic habitat.
Sebae AnemoneHardier option, adapts well to aquarium life.
Giant Carpet AnemoneOffers vast hosting space, ideal for larger clownfish.
Ritteri AnemoneStriking appearance and compatible with many clownfish types.
Bubble Tip Anemone

On the other hand, avoid these anemones:

AnemoneReason to Avoid
Condy AnemoneOften not compatible, can harm clownfish.
Tube AnemoneNot a true anemone, doesn’t form symbiotic relationships.
Rock AnemoneNot a natural host, can be aggressive.
AiptasiaConsidered a pest, can overrun a tank.
Manjano AnemoneInvasive, does not form a symbiotic relationship.

Also Read: Will Clownfish Host Torch Coral?

Condy Anemone

Here are a few steps you can follow to encourage proper anemone hosting:

  • Acclimate Slowly: Gradually acclimate the clownfish to the anemone to reduce stress and allow them to naturally explore the anemone.
  • Tank Stability: Ensure stable water conditions to promote a healthy environment for both the anemone and clownfish.
  • Proper Lighting: Provide strong lighting that suits the anemone’s needs, as this will help it thrive and become more appealing to the clownfish.
  • Feeding: Feed the anemone regularly to keep it healthy, making it a more desirable host for the clownfish.
  • Avoid Overcrowding: Keep the tank environment spacious and uncluttered, allowing the clownfish to easily access the anemone.
  • Patience: Give the clownfish time to adapt and find the anemone on their own; this process can sometimes take weeks or even months.
  • No Forcing: Never try to physically place the clownfish in the anemone, as this can cause stress and harm to both.

How to Feed Clownfish

1. What do Clownfish Eat?

Clownfish are omnivores, meaning they require a diet that includes both meat and plant-based foods.

Their diet in the wild consists of small crustaceans, algae, and zooplankton, which should be replicated in an aquarium setting for optimal health.

  • Meaty Foods: Clownfish enjoy a diet of meaty foods such as mysis shrimp, brine shrimp, and finely chopped seafood, providing essential proteins.
  • Vegetable Matter: Including vegetable matter like spirulina and nori (seaweed) in their diet helps in maintaining good digestion and overall health.
  • Copepods: These small crustaceans are a natural food source for clownfish, providing them with necessary nutrients and enhancing their natural foraging behavior.
  • Balanced Diet: A mix of commercial clownfish pellets or flakes, alongside fresh or frozen foods, ensures a well-rounded diet that meets all their nutritional needs.
Brine Shrimp

2. How Much do Clownfish Eat?

Determining the right amount of food for clownfish is crucial to avoid overfeeding and maintain a clean and healthy aquarium environment.

As a general rule, feed them only as much as they can consume in a few minutes.

  • Portion Control: Feed small, manageable portions that the clownfish can consume within three minutes to prevent overfeeding and excess waste.
  • Observation is Key: Regularly observe your clownfish during feeding to gauge their appetite and adjust portions accordingly.
  • Varying Appetites: Keep in mind that younger, more active clownfish may require slightly more food compared to older, less active ones.
  • Avoid Overfeeding: Excess food can decompose, leading to poor water quality and health issues; hence, it’s crucial to avoid overfeeding.

3. How Often do Clownfish Eat?

The frequency of feeding clownfish depends on their age, size, and the specific needs of your aquarium. In general, adult clownfish should be fed once or twice a day.

  • Juveniles Need More: Young, growing clownfish benefit from being fed small amounts 2-3 times a day to support their rapid growth and high energy needs.
  • Adults: Adult clownfish do well with feeding once or twice a day, ensuring they receive all necessary nutrients without overfeeding.
  • Regular Schedule: Feeding at the same times each day helps regulate the clownfish’s metabolism and maintains a routine in the aquarium.
  • Watch for Signs: Be attentive to your clownfish’s behavior; reduced appetite or leftover food may indicate a need to adjust feeding frequency or quantity.
Juvenile Clownfish

How to Pick Tank Mates for Clownfish

Selecting suitable tank mates for clownfish requires careful consideration of various factors to ensure a harmonious and healthy aquarium environment.

It’s crucial to choose companions that are compatible in terms of temperament, size, and environmental requirements.

  • Temperament Compatibility: Choose species that are peaceful or semi-aggressive to ensure they coexist with clownfish without bullying or harassment. Avoid overly aggressive or territorial fish.
  • Size and Behavior: Select tank mates that are similar or smaller in size to the clownfish. Larger fish should be non-predatory and known for their peaceful nature.
  • Similar Environmental Needs: Ensure the chosen species thrive in the same water conditions as clownfish, including temperature, pH, and salinity levels.
  • Feeding Compatibility: Pick species with similar dietary requirements to avoid competition for food and to simplify feeding routines in the tank.
  • Activity Level Balance: Consider the activity level of potential tank mates; a good mix of active and calm species can create a dynamic yet balanced aquarium ecosystem.

Based on these requirements, here are some species that can live with clownfish:

  • Royal Gramma
  • Firefish
  • Banggai Cardinalfish
  • Cleaner Shrimp
  • Dwarf Angelfish
  • Green Chromis
  • Watchman Goby

On the other hand, avoid species like:

  • Seahorses
  • Large Angelfish
  • Triggerfish
  • Large Groupers
  • Lionfish
  • Tangs (in smaller tanks)
  • Butterflyfish (certain species)

How To Breed Clownfish

Breeding clownfish in captivity is a fascinating process that requires specific conditions and careful attention.

It involves ensuring a compatible pair, creating a conducive breeding environment, and maintaining optimal water conditions.

  • Stable Pairing: Introduce two juvenile clownfish to form a natural bond, allowing them to mature and pair up, which often results in more harmonious breeding behavior.
  • Optimal Tank Conditions: Keep water temperature around 78-80°F, pH levels at 8.1-8.4, and specific gravity between 1.020-1.026 to mimic their natural breeding environment.
  • Breeding Environment: Set up a flat surface like a clay pot or slate in a quiet tank corner for egg-laying; clownfish prefer secluded, stable surfaces for spawning.
  • Dietary Support: Provide a varied diet of live, frozen, and high-quality dry foods to ensure the breeding pair is nutritionally supported for spawning.
  • Monitoring and Patience: Regularly watch for cleaning and guarding behavior around the chosen nesting site, indicating readiness to spawn; patience is essential as the process can take time.

Caring for Clownfish Eggs

Caring for clownfish eggs involves meticulous attention to water quality and conditions, as well as ensuring the safety of the eggs from potential tank hazards.

Proper care increases the chances of successful hatching and the survival of the fry.

  • Optimal Water Conditions: Maintain stable water parameters, particularly temperature (78-80°F) and salinity, as fluctuations can affect egg health and hatching success.
  • Gentle Water Flow: Ensure a gentle water flow around the eggs to mimic natural conditions, providing oxygenation and preventing detritus accumulation.
  • Protection from Predation: Safeguard the eggs from potential predators in the tank, including other fish and invertebrates, to ensure their survival.
  • Monitoring for Fungus: Regularly inspect the eggs for signs of fungus or decay, and gently siphon off any unhealthy eggs to prevent spread.
  • Lighting Conditions: Maintain moderate lighting conditions over the eggs; too much light can raise temperatures and harm the eggs, while too little can hinder development.

How to Raise Clownfish Fry

Raising clownfish fry is a challenging but rewarding task that requires specific feeding and tank management strategies.

It’s crucial to provide the fry with the appropriate food and environment for their delicate early stages.

  • Initial Feeding: Start with rotifers as the first food; they are small enough for the fry to eat and rich in essential nutrients for growth.
  • Gradual Diet Progression: After a week, introduce baby brine shrimp, which are larger and help in the fry’s continued development and growth.
  • Separate Rearing Tank: Use a dedicated rearing tank to protect the fry from potential predators and competition, ensuring their safety and growth.
  • Stable Water Conditions: Maintain stable water parameters in the fry tank, particularly temperature and salinity, to support healthy development.
  • Frequent Water Changes: Conduct regular, small water changes to keep the water quality high; cleanliness is crucial for the health of the delicate fry.

Common Clownfish Diseases

1. Marine Ich (Cryptocaryon irritans)

Marine Ich, caused by the parasite Cryptocaryon irritans, is a common and highly contagious disease in saltwater aquariums.

It manifests as tiny white spots on the fish’s skin, fins, and gills and can be fatal if not treated promptly.

  • Causes: Stress due to poor water quality or sudden changes in the environment can lower clownfish immunity, making them susceptible to Marine Ich.
  • Symptoms: Look for white, salt-like spots on the body, labored breathing, lethargy, and rubbing against objects in the tank.
  • Treatment: Raise tank temperature gradually to speed up the parasite’s life cycle, and use copper-based treatments or hyposalinity therapy for effective eradication.

2. Brooklynella Hostilis (Brooklynella Disease)

Brooklynella hostilis, commonly known as Brooklynella disease, is a severe parasitic infection affecting the skin and gills of clownfish.

It often leads to rapid deterioration and can be challenging to treat if not caught early.

  • Causes: Overcrowding and poor water quality are primary contributors to the outbreak of Brooklynella disease in clownfish.
  • Symptoms: Excessive mucus production, cloudy skin, clamped fins, rapid gill movement, and eventual peeling of the skin are indicative of Brooklynella.
  • Treatment: Immediate isolation of the infected fish and treatment with formalin-based medications is necessary to combat this aggressive disease.

3. Marine Velvet Disease (Amyloodinium ocellatum)

Marine Velvet Disease, caused by the dinoflagellate Amyloodinium ocellatum, is a deadly disease that can wipe out an entire tank if not treated swiftly.

It presents as a velvety, dusty appearance on the fish’s body and is often more challenging to detect than Marine Ich.

  • Causes: Sudden changes in water conditions and introducing new fish without quarantine can lead to an outbreak of Marine Velvet.
  • Symptoms: A fine, gold or grayish film on the skin, rapid breathing, clamped fins, and lethargy are common signs of this disease.
  • Treatment: Copper-based treatments and maintaining stable water parameters are crucial; UV sterilizers can help prevent its spread.

4. Bacterial Infections

Bacterial infections in clownfish can be internal or external and are often a result of poor water quality or injury.

These infections can manifest in various ways and need immediate attention to prevent them from becoming fatal.

  • Causes: Poor tank maintenance, untreated injuries, and a compromised immune system often lead to bacterial infections.
  • Symptoms: Signs include red streaks, ulcers, frayed fins, swollen eyes, and abnormal swimming patterns.
  • Treatment: Antibiotic treatments, either in the food or as a bath, are effective. Improving water quality and nutrition also helps in recovery.

5. Lymphocystis Disease

Lymphocystis disease, a viral infection, is characterized by the development of small, cauliflower-like growths on the fins or body.

While not typically fatal, it can be unsightly and indicative of underlying issues.

  • Causes: It’s often triggered by stress due to poor water conditions, handling, or aggressive tank mates.
  • Symptoms: The presence of small, white, cauliflower-like growths on the body or fins are the primary indicators of Lymphocystis.
  • Treatment: There is no specific treatment for Lymphocystis; improving overall tank health and reducing stress are the best approaches to managing this disease.

Identifying And Treating Stressed Clownfish

Identifying stress in clownfish is essential for maintaining their health and well-being in an aquarium setting.

Stress can be indicated by various behavioral changes and physical signs that are important to recognize and address promptly.

  • Abnormal Behavior: Stressed clownfish may exhibit unusual behaviors such as constant hiding, lack of interest in food, or aggression towards tank mates.
  • Change in Coloration: A stressed clownfish might show faded colors or, in severe cases, may turn almost completely pale, losing its vibrant hues.
  • Rapid Breathing: If a clownfish is persistently breathing rapidly, it could be a sign of stress, often related to poor water quality or lack of oxygen.
  • Lethargy: A noticeable reduction in activity levels, such as swimming slowly or staying motionless for extended periods, can indicate stress.
  • Staying at the Bottom: Clownfish lingering at the bottom of the tank more than usual may be stressed, possibly due to uncomfortable water conditions or illness.
  • Jumping Out of the Tank: In extreme cases, stressed clownfish might try to jump out of the tank, often a sign of being threatened or extremely uncomfortable in their environment.

If you suspect that your clownfish is stressed, here are some steps you can follow:

  • Improve Water Quality: Regularly check and maintain water parameters; ammonia and nitrite should be at 0 ppm, nitrates below 20 ppm, and pH around 8.1-8.4.
  • Adjust Tank Environment: Create a well-structured habitat with plenty of hiding places using live rocks or plants; avoid overcrowding by limiting the tank to 1-2 inches of fish per gallon.
  • Diet and Feeding: Provide a balanced diet with a mix of high-quality dry, frozen, and live foods; feed small amounts 2-3 times daily to avoid overfeeding and reduce competition.
  • Monitor Tank Dynamics: Observe interactions and separate or rehome aggressive tank mates if needed; rearrange the tank décor periodically to disrupt established territories and reduce aggression.


Can Clownfish Live Without Anemones?

Clownfish can live without anemones, although anemones provide a natural shelter and enhance the clownfish’s environment.

In aquariums, clownfish often adapt to their surroundings and can find alternative hiding places, like rock crevices or artificial decorations. The absence of an anemone does not significantly impact their health or longevity, as long as the tank conditions are well-maintained and safe.

Do Clownfish Mate For Life?

Yes, clownfish mate for life. Once they form a pair, they typically stay together, exhibiting strong pair bonding and often breeding multiple times with the same partner.

This monogamous behavior is observed both in the wild and in aquarium settings.

Do Clownfish Sleep?

Yes, clownfish do sleep. Like many fish, they enter a restful state, usually at night, where they become less active and settle at the bottom of the tank or in a secure spot.

However, they don’t close their eyes as they lack eyelids.

Can Clownfish Survive in Freshwater?

No, clownfish cannot survive in freshwater.

They are marine fish that require saltwater to maintain their bodily functions, and exposure to freshwater can disrupt their osmoregulation, leading to severe stress or death.


For quick readers, here’s a short summary:

  • Clownfish are a robust and popular choice for aquarists, thriving in saltwater tanks with specific pH and temperature requirements and benefiting from a symbiotic relationship with sea anemones.
  • These fish have a lifespan of 6-10 years in a well-maintained aquarium, prefer to be kept in pairs or small groups in larger tanks, and require a balanced diet of meaty and vegetable matter.
  • Successful clownfish breeding demands stable tank conditions and close proximity to their host anemone, while tank setup should include a minimum of 20 gallons with ample hiding spots.
  • Clownfish exhibit a variety of species, each with distinct colors and patterns, including the Percula, Maroon, Ocellaris, Skunk, and Tomato Clownfish.
  • Proper care includes maintaining specific water conditions, using live rock and efficient filtration systems, ensuring compatible tank mates, and providing adequate lighting and anemones for a natural environment.