[Ocean Oasis Field Guide] Satellite image of the Baja California peninsula and Gulf of California See Spanish version

Holacanthus passer
King angelfish, Passer angelfish, Angel real

Photo of king angelfish  © Gini Kellogg
Photo of angelfish cleaning manta and remora, from Ocean Oasis.

Angelfish have been observed cleaning parasites from hammerhead sharks, mantas, and other large fishes. In the bottom photo and in the film, Ocean Oasis, clarion angelfish near the Revillagigedo Islands appear to be cleaning the remoras which are attached to the mantas, as well as the mantas themselves.



Adults are dark blue-gray and have a vertical white bar on the sides just behind the origin of the pectoral fin. The pelvic fins are white in males and yellow in females. Juveniles undergo a changing pattern of colors but can be distinguished by the orange front and orange tail with a single bar or several white bars on the side.

Size: Length to 25 cm. (1.2 feet)

Range and Habitat

The range of the king angelfish includes the central Gulf of California, Guadalupe Island, south on the outer coast to Ecuador. They are common around shallow rocky and coral reefs from 3 meters (10 feet) to depths of at least 80 meters (260 feet). Juveniles can be found in shallower water.

Natural History

King angelfish are one of the most abundant fish in the Sea of Cortés. They graze on algal turf and attached invertebrates, especially sponges, and have been observed feeding on the feces of the scissortail damselfish, Chromis atrilobata (damisela cola de tijera). C. atrilobata is the most abundant fish species in shallow waters in La Paz Bay. (see photo)

A possible new hybrid of angelfish has been observed in the Cabo San Lucas area. This is the first probable Pomacanthid hybrid from the eastern Pacific. It is not known whether this is a natural occurrence or the result of introduction of the Clarion angelfish, Holacanthus clarionensis, from the Revillagigedo Islands by fishing boats. All characters support the hypothesis that the unidentified Pomacanthid is a hybrid of H. passer and H. clarionensis.

(Sala, E; O. Aburto, and J.L. Arreola. 1999. Observations of a probable Hybrid angelfish of the genus Holacanthus from the Sea of Cortés, México. Pacific Science, Vol.53, no.2:181-184.)

Text by Patricia Beller
Photo of king angelfish © Gini Kellogg
Photo of clarion angelfish cleaning manta, from Ocean Oasis

Field Guide | Site Index | Ocean Oasis Introduction

Quail Logo © 2000 San Diego Natural History Museum