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Old 09/22/2003, 09:49 PM
JHardman JHardman is offline
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Post Keeping clownfish: multiple clowns and mixing species

Clownfish have over the years of evolution developed a social based society. They form a hierarchy with a single mature female at the top, a mature male next in line and (depending on the species and circumstances in the wild) other sexually immature clownfish may fill out the lower ranks of the hierarchy. These sexually immature fish will compete for dominance within their ranks, and will likely try to challenge one or both of the sexually mature fish at some point. The urge to breed is one of the strongest in nature. The only way a sexually immature fish will ever get to breed is if one of the sexually mature fish is removed (for whatever reason) from the hierarchy.

For more information on clownfish behavior in their social structure and how sex change plays a role in this please see this thread.

In the wild, these fights for dominance workout with a couple of possible conclusions; first the challenger is not successful and is either driven from the host or killed, second the challenger is successful and drives a sexually mature fish from the host or kills it, third the sexually immature fish does not compete for dominance with a sexually mature fish and remains in the hierarchy. The most common is for the sexually immature fish to compete for dominance and try to replace a breeding fish. There are other possibilities where the lower ranking fish may return to its former position in the hierarchy, but is rarer than the first two scenarios. It should be noted that this type of scenario will play out over an extended period of time, I am not talking about day to day, but rather month to month and year to year.

During this evolutional period clownfish developed a relationship with some species of anemones. These species of anemones are called “host anemones� as they host clownfish and some other species of damsels. Host anemones are required in the wild for the clownfish’s survival; without a host the clownfish would fall prey to larger more aggressive fish on the reef. The host anemone provides shelter and a protected place to spawn, typically under or very near the anemone. It becomes the territory of the clownfish which they will defend not only from other animals but especially from other clownfish as anemones are not a dime a dozen in the wild and there are only so many available to host clownfish.

Anemones are not needed for clownfish in captivity to live long, happy and healthy lives. Please do not rush to buy one until you have fully researched their care and needs and are able to provide them with everything they need.

How does this relate to the home aquarium?

With this in mind, we now know that clownfish are territorial and will defend their territory from other animals and especially other clownfish because if they are driven from their host they are likely to become food for another in the wild.

We know that clownfish form hierarchies with a single female and a single male and possibly some sexually immature fish, and that sooner or later the sexually immature fish will compete for dominance and will likely be driven from the host or killed with a small chance they will be accepted back into the hierarchy without further problems.

Now how does relate to home aquarium? It gives us some guide lines and some knowledge to work from when keeping clownfish.

1) Since clownfish are territorial, we know they will defend an area in our tanks. This means that other fish, especially other clownfish will not receive a warm welcome when in their tank/territory. With other clownfish in the tank they will be considered threats to taking over the existing clown(s) territory and will most like be dealt with harshly.

2) Since we know clownfish form hierarchies and that sexually immature fish will sooner or later compete for a dominate role in the hierarchy that keeping more than two clownfish in the same tank will likely lead to fighting and possibly death as the upstart has no place to be driven to in a tank unlike in the wild with the vast amounts of space on a reef. There will also be a stress factor to be considered here too. The mature fish will feel the stress of constantly having to defend their position in the hierarchy and the fish competing for a dominate role in the hierarchy will also be stressed in its efforts; all of the fish will be more susceptible to disease and parasites when stressed like this.

Bottom line on keeping multiple clowns, rather it is of the same species, different species or multiple pairs.

You can try this. There are a couple of very rare exceptions where this has worked out in the long term. Please keep in mind that clownfish can live for upwards of 20-30 years in captivity and having multiple clownfish in a single tank for a few months or even a couple of years is no solid indication of long term success.

You need to go into the this type of venture with the idea in your head and the resources at hand that at some point in the future your are going to have to remove all the clownfish but one pair. The transition from a peaceful tank full of clownfish to a graveyard full of dead clownfish can happen literally during the course of one day; leave in the morning with a peaceful tank, return home in the evening to find all the clownfish dead.

If you are dead set on trying this and you have your expectations set so that you know at some point you will likely have to remove all but the mated pair, here are a couple of tips that might help keep things peaceful for as long as possible.

First introduce all of the fish at the same time. Second stick with one species. Third introduce small juveniles. Fourth have a large tank.

CB (captive bred) fish are a better candidate for this type of thing as all of the fish will be about the same age and size and more accustomed to living with other clowns.

If you are going to try multiple pairs of the same species or different species, a large tank is really a must. Your aquascaping should be designed in such a manner as to shield the pairs from each others view. The less they see each other the few chances for a fight to break out. Having multiple hosting sites in the tank so that each pair can claim a territory as far away from the other pair(s)’s territory the better. You do not need an anemone for this, in fact an anemone may not be the best choice because anemones tend to move in tanks from time to time taking the pair with it and possibly nearer another pair. Clownfish love caves and overhangs. They also like terracotta flower pots.

You will have better luck with the least aggressive species of clownfish, like A. Ocellaris and A. Percula. You should avoid species that are noted for being aggressive like P. Biaculeatus (maroons) or A. Frenatus (tomatoes).
Old 09/22/2003, 11:20 PM
TippyToeX TippyToeX is offline
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Great write up JHardman

This should get sticky status.
Old 09/23/2003, 04:55 PM
LargeAngels LargeAngels is offline
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I second that. As many questions there are about mixing clowns.
Old 09/23/2003, 11:16 PM
multi striped 12 multi striped 12 is offline
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Great reading ...Then my question is will a tank bred false percula host an anemone? Sorry if this is a common ? I did a search and found nothing. I have a pair of tank raised perculas and have
thought about the mixing question....I know now that is a no.
or yes with extreme caution on species.
Old 09/24/2003, 10:25 AM
ginntonic74 ginntonic74 is offline
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As usual great write up. I really enjoy reading your write ups about clown fish.
You need only two tools in life: WD-40 and duct tape. If it doesn't move and it should, use WD-40. If it moves and shouldn't, use the tape.
Old 09/24/2003, 07:29 PM
richw richw is offline
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How many pair can you have if you have different anenomes in tank?

I will likely be adding a blue haddoni carpet to my tank which already includes a cluster of btas with a pair of clarki. I plan on adding a pair of saddlebacks for the carpet and either keep the clarkis for the btas or adding a new pair of clowns (possible maroons) for the bta. Is this a recipe for trouble? How does one pair of fish service two anenomes at different parts of the tank?

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