Reef Brief - Angelfish: Beauties of the Reef - by Jill Hepp

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 11, No. 37            September 20, 2001

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Anyone who has snorkeled or dove off of Ambergris Caye is probably familiar with angelfish as they are the classic coral reef fish: graceful, large and attractive. There are 74 species of angelfish worldwide but in the wider Caribbean there are only seven different species: Rock Beauty, Queen Angelfish, Blue Angelfish, Gray Angelfish, French Angelfish, Cherubfish and the Flameback Angelfish. Here, in Belize, it is common to see the Rock Beauty, Queen Angelfish, Gray Angelfish and the French Angelfish. 

    Angelfish, as adults, obtain approximately 95% of their food intake from sponges, which is somewhat unusual for fish due to the physiological makeup of sponges. Most sponges are supported by an internal framework of indigestible and irritating spicules either of calcium or silica, and have an outside layer that is tough and tastes bad. Angelfish have evolved adaptations such as a protracted jaw with specialized teeth and the ability to secrete a thick coating of mucus around bits of sponge. With these adaptations they are able to utilize sponges as their primary food source, which gives them a resource that is not used by many other reef fish. 

    Angelfish are territorial and some species establish mates for life. Specific information about the reproductive behavior of angelfish is somewhat vague and depends on the species and the region. Five species though, are believed to be protogynous hermaphrodites, meaning that they change sex from female to male. This change in sex is triggered not by size or age, as in many other reef fish, but by the disappearance of the territorial male. It is possible for some of the species such as the Queen Angelfish and the Blue Angelfish to crossbreed and produce hybrids. 

   Keys to Conservation:  Discuss with your children why it is important to throw trash in proper bins. Explain what pollution is and how it can be harmful to humans, animals and the environment.



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