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Choosing a Damselfish

By: Dr. Amy Wolff

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Damselfish are shoaling reef fish that live in coral outcroppings that are used as hiding places and territories. Shoaling refers to large groups of fish that live together for protection. These fish are agile and active, easy to feed, and tolerate fluctuations in water quality. Several species are commonly kept in the marine aquarium and all have a different appearance and temperament. Beginning saltwater aquarists often start with a few colorful damsels.

Appearance and Behavior

Damsels are most noted for their electric blue coloration but other varieties are equally appealing. Common species include:

  • Blue damsel. This name includes several species with similar colorations. The fish range from entirely blue to blue with yellow tail fins. They can be aggressive with their own kind. If kept in shoals, they will need a lot of territory to quiet their disputes.

  • Neon damsel. This damsel has a vertical yellow stripe down a black body with iridescent green stripes on the head and back. This is another aggressive species.

  • Green chromis. Stunning green coloration identifies these members of the damsel family. Unlike their more aggressive cousins, chromis are shy and peaceful and actually prefer a few of their own kind to feel comfortable.

  • Humbugs. An easy fish to keep but definitely territorial and aggressive. This damsel has black and white vertical stripes and is sometimes referred to as a "5-striped."

    Most species of damsels will quarrel among themselves. In the wild, where there are plenty of corals and rocky ledges, each fish will establish its own small territory. Within the confines of the aquarium however, keeping several damsels will result in disputes. To help solve this problem, keep them singly or provide enough rock and coral formations so fish don't squabble over territory. Most damsels will grow to be 2 to 3 inches and live 1 to 3 years.

    Feeding and Tank Requirements

    Damsels are not fussy eaters. Most adapt well to flake food but a well-balanced diet should include some chopped meat, freeze dried foods and even some vegetation. Offer a leaf of romaine lettuce for a short time several times a week. They have been observed to eat algae. The tank should be 55 gallons or larger to provide stable water quality. To construct coral or rock formations, secure them to the bottom or each other with silicone aquarium sealant. The fish will dart in and out of hiding places and defend their separate territories.

    Special Concerns

    Because of their hardy nature and ease of feeding, damsels are good fish for establishing marine tanks. Use one or two as the first fish introduced to a newly established tank. Watch them carefully for signs of aggression when other species are added. They are not always happy to welcome newcomers!

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