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Sea of Cortez 810

Family Pomacanthidae
Class: Actinopterygii (ray-finned)
Order: Perciformes

Key Features:
Angelfishes are graceful and colorful residents of many reef systems around the world.  They resemble the butterflyfishes, Chaetodontidae, but may be identified by the presence of a preopercular spine.  Angelfishes are grazers and pickers and are often specialized coral or sponge eaters.  Some species are also cleaners.  There is often a dramatic difference in coloration between juveniles and adults.    

Notable Species in the Sea of Cortez

Pomacanthus zonipectus
Cortez Angelfish
Holacanthus passer
King Angelfish
Holacanthus clarionensis
Clarion Angelfish

Holacanthus passer angelfish Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico

Holacanthus passer
King Angelfish (juvenile)

Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico

Family Pomacanthidae
Angelfishes (Peces angel)

Formerly classified within Chaetodontidate, (butterflyfish,) the members of Pomacanthidae (angelfish) are now a distinct family.  Prized circumtropically for their beauty and grace, they are common residents of both coral reef and rocky reef communities.  Angelfishes are opportunistic grazers and pickers and will feed on coral polyps, seaweed, tunicates, and are one of the few fishes that will feed on sponges. 

The Sea of Cortez possesses three species of angelfishes in two genera.  Of these species, only two are widely distributed. The beautiful Clarion angelfish Holacanthus clarionensis is found only in the Cape region, including the sand falls of Cabo San Lucas, and the coral reef community at Cabo Pulmo.  It becomes increasingly common south of the Gulf, especially at Clarion Island within the Revillagigedo Archipelago. Clarion angelfish are known to be cleaners of the giant mantas and whalesharks that frequent the waters near Socorro and other islands in this remote Pacific Archipelago. 

The most widely distributed angelfish in the Sea of Cortez is the Cortez angelfish, Pomacanthus zonipectus, with a range that extends from Puerto Penasco to Peru.  Like most angelfish, juveniles undergo a dramatic change in appearance as they mature.  Snorkelers in Puerto Penasco can occasionally see the strikingly colored juveniles. Juvenile Cortez angelfish are characteristically a deep black, with an iridescent blue sheen. This dark coloration accents the bright yellow stripes that curve vertically along the body.  Adults attain a more drab grey-speckled body with a strong vertical yellow bar behind the pectoral fins.

Although not as widely distributed, the king angelfish, Holacanthus passer, is the most abundant angelfish within the central and southern Gulf of California.  Identification of adults of this species is easily accomplished, as they possess a strong white bar and a bright orange tail set against a deep blue body. Adults will often school with scissortail damselfish and have been known to mob scuba divers, looking for handouts.     


Updated August 28, 2009

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