Ocellaris Clownfish – A Complete Care Guide

Are you thinking of adding an Ocellaris Clownfish to your saltwater tank? If so, you’ll want to read this complete guide first! In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about keeping these beautiful fish healthy and happy in your aquarium. We’ll discuss their preferred habitat, feeding habits, compatible tank mates, and more. So whether you’re a beginner or an experienced saltwater aquarium owner, be sure to read on for some valuable information on Ocellaris Clownfish care.

Key Takeaways

  • Ocellaris clownfish are one of the most popular fish in all of the aquarium-keeping hobby.
  • These fish are often kept with a host anemone, though this pairing can be challenging for beginner and expert hobbyists alike.
  • Clownfish are some of the easiest saltwater fish to breed and exhibit interesting parental behaviors.

An Overview of Ocellaris Clownfish

Scientific NameAmphiprion ocellaris
Common NamesOcellaris clownfish, False percula clownfish, Common clownfish, Western clownfish, Anemonefish
FamilyPomacentridae
OriginIndo-Pacific
DietOmnivore
ColorsOrange, black, white
Care LevelEasy
TemperamentSemi-aggressive
Minimum Tank Size20 gallons
Max Size3 inches
Temperature Range72 – 78° F
pH Range8.0 – 8.4
Salinity1.020 – 1.026
Reef SafeYes
Available As Tank Breed?Yes

Introduction to Clownfish

Arguably one of the most popular fish in the entire aquarium-keeping hobby, the clownfish can be found in nearly every saltwater aquarium. These fish shot to stardom with Pixar’s animated film, Finding Nemo, but their bright colors, reef-safe compatibility, and easy care requirements have made them a staple in the home aquarium hobby.

There are about 30 species of clownfish. Many of these species have similar appearances and temperaments, but none is as common to find as the ocellaris clownfish. Ocellaris clownfish have been successfully bred in the aquarium hobby at a commercial scale, making them easy to find and cheap to buy. This, in addition to their exceptional hardiness as marine fish, makes the ocellaris clownfish one of the best beginner fish for saltwater enthusiasts.

The ocellaris clownfish is scientifically known as Amphiprion ocellaris and goes by several common names. For many years, these fish were known as false percula clownfish. This was confusing when comparing true percula clownfish (Amphiprion percula) to ocellaris clownfish. It was often believed that true percula clownfish were wild-caught while false percula were aquacultured. The true difference is in morphology. Luckily, most stores clearly label these fish as ocellaris now.

Is Nemo An Ocellaris Clownfish?

Nemo is one of the main characters in Pixar’s Finding Nemo. He is a small clownfish with a malformed fin that gets lost and needs to be found by his dad.

This heartwarming story about a family of clownfish made clownfish sales skyrocket. Hippo tangs (Paracanthurus hepatus) also saw a rise in popularity due to the comical side character, Dory. Unfortunately, many of these film enthusiasts were not equipped to care for these saltwater fish and many fish died. Thankfully, pet stores and fish stores have become more diligent about selling these tangs and clownfish species to beginner hobbyists.

But if you’re a fan of both Finding Nemo and aquarium-keeping, then there’s no reason you can’t keep a clownfish in your own tank! If you’re looking to match the movie as best as possible, then you will want to get an ocellaris clownfish to match the species portrayed as Nemo.

Origins And Habitat

Ocellaris clownfish are native to the Indo-Pacific, from the western Pacific Ocean to the eastern Indian Ocean. They are largely found throughout areas between Northern Australia and Southeast Asia, including waters bordering Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Japan.

In their natural habitat, they find protection on coral reefs, particularly among the tentacles of anemones. Almost all clownfish form a natural symbiotic relationship with various species of anemone; the clownfish provide food to the anemone while the anemone provides shelter to the fish. Normally, anemones have the ability to sting fish and invertebrates, but clownfish have evolved special mucus that keeps them protected.

Ocellaris clownfish are particularly compatible with:

  • Magnificent anemone/Ritteri anemone (Heteractis magnifica)
  • Giant carpet anemone (Stichodactyla gigantea)
  • Mertens’ carpet anemone (Stichodactyla mertensii)

Ocellaris clowns prefer calm lagoon conditions where they form monogamous pairs.

Appearance

Clownfish have an iconic appearance. Their orange, black, and white stripes are unmistakable and highly sought after for the home aquarium reef.

Tank Raised Clownfish

Ocellaris clownfish have white and orange alternating stripes, starting with orange on the face. In all, they have 3 white stripes and 4 orange stripes. In between the white and orange are small black borders. There are also black margins on all fins.

Thanks to natural mutations and selective breeding, ocellaris clown appearance can greatly vary. Some popular varieties of ocellaris clownfish include:

Black ocellaris clownfish. These clowns are exactly the same as regular ocellaris but are black instead of orange. The intensity of the black will vary between individuals and change with time and some orange or yellow may still be present.

Misbar ocellaris clownfish. These clowns have one or more incomplete white stripes. This usually results in larger and more connected areas of orange.

Snowflake clownfish. These ocellaris clownfish have much larger and deformed white stripes than regular varieties. These fish also come in a black variety where all orange is replaced by black.

How Big Do Ocellaris Clownfish Get?

Ocellaris clownfish are considered nano fish due to their small size and contained behaviors. On average, ocellaris clownfish grow to be about 3 inches.

Sexual dimorphism, or the difference between males and females, is very clear between adult clowns. The main difference is that female clowns are much bigger than their male counterparts, sometimes leaving an inch difference between the two.

Clownfish are protandrous hermaphrodites which means that they are born male and have the ability to change to female if environmental conditions vary. In particular, this change will occur when there is a lack of females available. The two fish will try to assert dominance over one another until it is decided who is the female and who is the male.

What Is The Difference Between Ocellaris Clownfish And Percula Clownfish?

As mentioned before, ocellaris clownfish were known as false percula clownfish for a very long time despite being a different species from true percula clownfish. This difference in species does not depend on how these two species were raised in the home aquarium, but rather, differences in morphology.

There are a few key differences between ocellaris clowns and true percula clowns:

  1. Eye color. Ocellaris clowns have black surrounding the pupil of the eye while true perculas have orange surrounding the pupil.
  2. Black borders. Ocellaris clownfish have very thin black borders between their orange and white stripes. True percula clownfish have thicker black borders. This is not the best way to tell these two fish apart as thickness can greatly vary between individuals as well as between varieties.
  3. Dorsal fin spines. This is the best way to tell these two species apart. Dorsal fin spines are the thin ridges within the dorsal fin of the fish. True percula clowns typically have 10 dorsal fin spines while ocellaris clowns have 11. Again, this may vary between individuals but this feature is one of the most consistent differences.

If you end up with a true percula clownfish instead of an ocellaris clownfish, then there is little to worry about. These fish are near identical in terms of appearance, temperament, and care requirements.

Ocellaris Clownfish Tank Requirements

Clownfish are some of the easiest saltwater fish to keep. With ocellaris being the most common clown to find and one of the least expensive available, almost every hobbyist has one of these fish in their saltwater tank.

Because they’re so hardy, many hobbyists usually add these fish first to test water parameters without adding an undesirable ‘tester’ fish.

Are Oscellaris Clownfish Easy To Keep?

Yes! These saltwater fish are very hardy and can withstand most deviations from ideal conditions. That being said, they are marine fish that require stable specific gravity in a saltwater environment. Some clownfish can also be overly aggressive to tank mates, though most individuals stay semi-aggressive.

Do Clownfish Need A Sea Anemone?

No! And it’s actually a bad idea to get an anemone for your clownfish if you’re inexperienced. Anemones are very challenging

There are three main problems with keeping anemones:

  1. Maintaining water parameters and lighting. Anemones can be just as difficult as corals, if not harder. They require stable water conditions, high lighting, and good water flow. Most beginner tanks are not set up immediately with corals or anemones in mind. As a result, most anemones shrivel up and die after a couple of weeks.
  2. Overpopulation. On the other hand, you can be too successful at keeping anemones. Anemones reproduce by splitting. Once they’re happy, they split rapidly. Anemones are able to dislodge their foot from the surface they’re attached to and move around the aquarium until they find a preferred area to stay. This can lead to the smothering out of other corals as well as overpopulation.
  3. Failure to host. The picturesque clownfish will host an anemone as soon as you put it into your saltwater tank. Unfortunately, this rarely happens. It is believed that captive-bred clownfish do not feel threatened in the tank and therefore do not seek shelter in the form of a sea anemone. Instead, they will take to hosting rocks and aquarium equipment (oftentimes in the back of the tank).

All in all, most hobbyists choose against introducing an anemone into their clownfish tank due to the cons outweighing the pros. If you’ve always wanted a clownfish and anemone pairing, then it is strongly recommended to purchase them together. The best anemone to try with these clownfish is a bubble tip anemone. If you want an in-depth video on how to introduce and pair a clownfish with an anemone, check out this how-to video from Melevsreef below.

Tank Size

Clownfish are one of the few saltwater fish that has been kept in nearly every tank size. Some hobbyists have even successfully kept these fish in as little as 2.5 gallons. We do not recommend this!

It is true that ocellaris clownfish can be kept in small tanks. In fact, the minimum tank size recommended is 20 gallons for a male and female pair. That being said, some hobbyists place singular juveniles in temporary 5-gallon tanks as well.

Once established, clownfish typically stay where they are. They are not adventurous fish that regularly travel the length of the aquarium. Instead, they find an area to host and they stay there. This is why they can be kept in smaller tanks.

What size tank do you need for 2 clownfish?

A 20 gallon tank will comfortably fish 2 clownfish without any other tank mates and with good water quality. It is much preferred to keep a pair of clownfish in at least 20 gallons as this also allows for additional tank mates.

Can a clownfish live in a 5 gallon tank?

Yes and no. Ocellaris clownfish are small fish that don’t need a lot of space to thrive. As a result, hobbyists sometimes place a singular juvenile clown into a 5 gallon tank temporarily for display purposes. More often than not, the clownfish is transferred to a different tank soon after. Some of the better fish species for a 5 gallon tank are gobies.

Aquarium Setup

When it comes to saltwater aquariums, clownfish tank setups can be some of the simplest. These fish don’t require anything special other than a stationary object that they can host along with some decent filtration.

Ocellaris clownfish will do best in an aquarium with live rock, moderate water flow, and moderate filtration. Live rock is essential for marine ecosystems as it carries an abundance of bacteria and other microorganisms that support and stabilize water quality. It also provides shelter for fish and invertebrates.

All saltwater fish can be jumpers, so it’s important to use a tight-fitting aquarium lid or fish-proof netting.

Water Parameters

Clownfish are hardy fish that can tolerate a large range of water parameters. They are very forgiving of incorrect and wavering parameters as long as they are quickly corrected.

Ocellaris clownfish prefer a water temperature between 72-78° F with a pH between 8.0-8.4. As saltwater fish, they require a stable salinity between 1.020-1.026. Clownfish cannot tolerate any traces of ammonia or nitrite.

15-25% weekly or biweekly water changes are needed to keep waste levels down while also replenishing nutrients. Regular water, like distilled or reverse osmosis water, may need to be topped off to keep salinity from rising between water changes.

Filtration and Aeration

Saltwater filtration can be more complex than that needed for freshwater fish, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be. A saltwater aquarium can run with bare minimum hang on the back filtration, though most hobbyists opt for a canister filter or sump system.

Small saltwater tanks are arguably more difficult to keep stable than larger ones, which means that filtration should be rated for at least 3-4x the size of the aquarium for nano systems. At the same time, fewer fish and invertebrates mean that less filtration is required.

Many hobbyists use a protein skimmer on their reef tank to help remove more organics. This is usually not necessary if keeping only a couple of fish without any corals and if keeping up with regular tank maintenance.

Clownfish aren’t messy fish, but keeping a balanced marine system can be slightly more difficult for beginner saltwater enthusiasts.

Lighting

Saltwater aquarium lights can vary greatly in spectrum and intensity. The most basic saltwater aquarium can run on fluorescent lighting if only fish are being kept. On the other hand, challenging corals require multiple types of lights and intensities. A good base light that will keep most easier-to-care corals is a Current USA LED light.

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Clownfish can adapt to either end of this spectrum and everything in between. Though not adventurous, clownfish are bold fish that will stay visible in the aquarium. Strong aquarium lights will not deter your fish from being present, though hiding places are appreciated for intermittent shade.

Substrate

Clownfish can be kept on sand, gravel, or a bare-bottom tank setup. Most hobbyists choose sand for ease of cleaning and aesthetic purposes, but these fish don’t care which you pick.

Healthy clownfish should never be on the substrate. If you notice your fish scratching itself on the ground or gasping for air while laying on the bottom, then it may be ill or water parameters may be incorrect.

That being said, ocellaris clowns also exhibit very strange sleeping behaviors. This could lead them to sink onto the substrate for brief moments. As long as there is no injury and this is routine behavior, there should be no cause for worry.

Ocellaris Clownfish Temperament

It should be noted that clownfish are members of the damselfish family, Pomacentridae, which are some of the most aggressive fish in the saltwater hobby. Luckily, most clownfish stay semi-aggressive, though they’ve been known to attack other saltwater fish and their owners!

For the most part, clownfish stay in their section of the tank. This could be near a rock, a pump, or even a thermometer. They bob up and down in the current, rarely swimming out into the open for anything but food or to investigate an intruder. In fact, clownfish will almost always explore any hands or cleaning equipment that enters the tank. They’ve been known to draw blood from hobbyists, though this is extremely rare–expect a few nips here and there though!

As mentioned before, clownfish can also have some worrying sleep behaviors. These fish rest on rocks and pumps as they sleep, something falling over or swimming upside down. This can be very concerning at first. As long as your fish wakes up happy and healthy in the morning and this behavior proves to be routine, then there is nothing to worry about. If you start to notice scrapes and discoloration, then your fish might be sick.

Are Ocellaris Clownfish Reef-Safe?

Yes, ocellaris clownfish are fully reef-safe in regards to not eating coral. However, these clownfish can still cause damage to coral.

Clownfish can be kept with all species of coral. Their desire to host anemone species can lead to some problems, though. Torch corals and hammer corals (Euphyllia spp.) greatly resemble sea anemones due to their long tentacles. These corals still sting the clown and offer protection, but they’re not equipped to handle the constant irritation brought on by the fish. As a result, these corals often get injured and retract, eventually leading to some die-off.

In these cases, some hobbyists introduce an anemone in hopes that their clowns host it instead of the coral. But usually, there is no changing the fish’s mind.

Ocellaris Clownfish Tank Mates

Ocellaris clownfish are popular for a reason and that’s because they can be kept with nearly every species of saltwater fish. These semi-aggressive fish can be accepting of shyer, and less active species or can stand up against more predatory species, especially if given an anemone.

Some of the best clownfish tank mates include:

These are some of the safest pairings, but clownfish have also been kept with pufferfish and even some triggerfish. It should be noted that these are considerably risky pairings, but keeping clowns in a pair with a host anemone can greatly increase the chances of survival.

One of the most popular pairings is the ocellaris clownfish with the hippo tang, like Nemo and Dory. While this is definitely a compatible pairing, hippo tangs need large tanks in excess of 125 gallons. As long as these conditions are met, then these two species can be kept together without any problems!

Lastly, many hobbyists want to keep a group of clownfish together in the same tank. This has been achieved many times though hobbyists have also failed many times. These setups are known as clownfish harems and they’re extremely difficult to get right. The problem is that clownfish are accepting of a mate but will quickly attack different clownfish species as well as their own. Here’s a photo of my first clown harem I attempted a few years back.

Clown Harem

To make a clownfish harem work, the tank needs to be very large. All fish should be added together and a few should be expected to die. Anemones and plenty of hiding places will help protect smaller and less aggressive fish from the dominant male and female clowns.

What Do Ocellaris Clownfish Eat?

Ocellaris clownfish are omnivores that enjoy both meat and plant-based foods. They aren’t scavengers and will not pick at the rocks or substrate for algae or other wastes.

Instead, these fish enjoy a high-quality fish food flake or pellet. They will not hesitate to swim to the bottom of the substrate to pick up live, frozen, or freeze-dried foods, like brine shrimp or mysis shrimp, but won’t venture there outside of feeding times. In general, they feed towards the top of the tank and are some of the first fish to show up to eat.

Breeding Ocellaris Clownfish

Ocellaris clownfish have been bred at the commercial scale for many years. This has made these relatively peaceful fish widely available and much more hardy than wild-caught individuals. Breeding ocellaris clownfish is relatively easy, especially since males and females can easily be told apart.

Here’s how to begin breeding your ocellaris clowns!

Establish a breeding pair. There are many varieties of clownfish and most species are easy to breed. If you do not already have an established pair, purchase two clowns with one that is slightly bigger than the other. This difference in size will help the fish differentiate which is female and which is male. After a while, there will be a clear size difference. You can see the entire breeding journey below by New Reef Aquaculture below.

It is recommended to purchase mature clowns for the fastest results as juveniles can take a year or more to sexually mature.

Next, move the fish to a separate breeding tank or allow the pair to breed in the main display. Moving your fish to another tank greatly increases the odds of fry surviving to adulthood and gives better control over environmental conditions. However, this requires additional space and equipment that isn’t always necessary for successful spawning.

This breeding tank doesn’t need to be elaborate. A 10 gallon bare bottom tank with a clay pot or piece of rock is enough to entice spawning.

During this, feed a high-quality diet. Provide your clowns with a large variety of foods. Do not overfeed your fish as this can lead to water quality issues. At the same time, perform regular tank maintenance and ensure that parameters stay close to ideal.

Eventually, the pair will meticulously clean an area of the tank. This is a good indication that they’re getting ready to spawn. The female will then lay eggs and the male will fertilize them. At this point, the parents will protect and take care of the eggs until they hatch. They will eat any unfertilized or defective eggs.

Once the eggs hatch, the parents are likely to eat them so it’s best to remove the fry or the parents. It should be noted that fish may struggle with their first couple of clutches.

Where To Buy Clownfish

Clownfish are readily available at many local fish stores and online. Local would be the best place to purchase clownfish immediately, but they may not have many of the designer clownfish varieties available today. If you are looking for unique breeds, venture to online fish stores.

The link below in the box will direct you to a couple of great online vendors that sell tank-breed clownfish. ORA is the primary breeder in the US and you can purchase from the click below and have them shipped directly from their facility!

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Final Thoughts

Ocellaris clownfish can be found in nearly every saltwater aquarium setup. These beautiful fish bring unique colors to the aquarium, don’t take up a lot of space, and are very easy to breed and care for. Clownfish can be kept with an assortment of community species as well as with some predatory species. They are one of the most beginner-friendly species available on the saltwater side of the hobby and are extremely affordable!

by Mark

Mark is the founder of Aquarium Store Depot. He started in the aquarium hobby at the age of 11 and along the way worked at local fish stores. He has kept freshwater tanks, ponds, and reef tanks for over 25 years. His site was created to share his knowledge and unique teaching style on a larger scale. He has worked on making aquarium and pond keeping approachable. Mark has been featured in two books about aquarium keeping - both best sellers on Amazon. Each year, he continues to help his readers and clients with knowledge, professional builds, and troubleshooting.

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