Majestic angelfish (Pomacanthus navarchus) earn their name with dramatic colors of yellow set off with a “girdle” of navy blue. They look stunning in any marine aquarium. And while they’re challenging to manage and keep happy, plenty of aquarists hunt them down as additions to their reef tanks. (Well, CERTAIN reef tanks, anyway)
Table of Contents: Majestic Angelfish Care
With mild temperaments (for an angelfish) and those unique color patterns, you’re probably eager to add a majestic angelfish to your collection. We have all of the handy links you might need below. Or you can read through the entire article and make sure you don’t miss anything for their care.
- Common Names: Majestic angelfish, Blue-girdled angelfish, Navarchus angelfish, Blue-gilled angelfish
- Scientific Names: Pomacanthus navarchus
- Size: 10 inches (25.4cm)
- Minimum Tank Size: 180 Gallons (681L)
- Reef Safe? With Caution
- Care or Experience Level: Moderate
- Preferred Diet: Omnivore
- Original Part of the World: Indo-Pacific
Description of the Majestic Angelfish
Majestic angelfish are one of the most popular species in their family. And it’s easy to see why. The vibrant yellow scales stand out against the blue “girdle” that slides across their faces and sweeps backward over the top of their bodies. You’ll find an outline of neon blue to the band and around the eyes, with a lighter shade on the fins. The position of that girdle is what gives them their other common names of blue-girdled or blue-gilled angelfish.
Plenty of people pass by juvenile majestics without a second glance. They look NOTHING like their parents. Instead, they have dark scales (standard in the Pomacanthus genus) with light blue, vertical stripes. They’re familiar sights out on reefs but not often found in fish stores. While majestic angelfish aren’t the fastest growing saltwater species, they DO undergo a growth spurt as youngsters. By the time juveniles reach 2.5 inches (6.4cm), they start shifting to their adult color pattern.
As with other angelfish, majestics have opercular spines as a means for defense. This makes them challenging to collect – or work with in home aquariums. If the spines get entangled in netting, the fish can end up with damage to their gills. You’ll want to have a flat net handy at all times to “herd” your majestic into a container with a lid.
Majestic Angelfish Lifespan
While plenty of snorkelers and divers overlook majestic angelfish juveniles, the adults are hard to miss. They’re seen throughout the Indo-Pacific region on reef slopes, in and out of channels, and throughout lagoons. They’re a staple of coral-rich habitats.
While not the largest of the angelfish group, their impressive 10-inch (25.4cm) length makes them easy to pick out. Divers and researchers have noted certain majestics patrolling the same territories for close to 21 years! Of course, you may not see the same kind of lifespan in a captive situation, but it’s something to aim for.
Creating the Ideal Majestic World
Majestic angelfish divide their habitat preference based on age. As juveniles, they prefer to stay shallower in their regions. You’ll rarely see them venture out of the protected lagoons of Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia, and Micronesia. But once they grow into their fins (and that stunning coloration), they’re bold enough to head for deeper waters. Divers have noticed majestics as far down as 130 feet (40m)!
They prefer sticking close to coral, which provides a ready source of their favorite foods. It also allows plenty of hiding places when they need to duck out of the path of a potential predator (or a more aggressive fish that gets too close). And this is the model you’ll want to duplicate when you set out to bring one of these gorgeous angelfish into your home marine aquarium.
A hefty supply of mature live rock will do the trick. If you can add in algae and sponges, you’ll find yourself with an exceedingly happy majestic angelfish. The rock structures can provide caves, overhangs, and natural hiding places to make them feel safe and secure. They’re not as aggressive as some of their larger cousins. And when they’re feeling shy, they need somewhere to hide.
You’ll probably want to use the brightest lighting possible to show off those yellow and blue scales. And, in this case, it’s for the best. Majestic angelfish kept under dim lighting succumb to head and lateral line erosion (HLLE). You shouldn’t encounter any problems if you have a reef tank, as standard coral lights will do the trick. But if you’ve skipped corals (we’ll delve into that problem in a moment), pick a stronger intensity to keep your majestic healthy.
Majestic Angelfish Tank Size
So the majestic angelfish isn’t quite as remarkable as the French angelfish when it comes to size. You still want to look at a decent tank size if you plan to bring one home. Even for a single majestic, you shouldn’t go smaller than 180 gallons (681L). This provides plenty of swimming room while also giving you space to “aquascape” with that live rock. If you do decide to add a pair to your tank, this is the MINIMUM you’ll need to keep them happy. Never attempt to keep two majestics in anything smaller, or you’ll end up with aggression and fighting.
Smaller tanks will also lead to problems with maintaining water quality. Majestic angelfish need PRISTINE water. You can’t get away with more than <5ppm for your nitrates. If you think you’ll need a hand with keeping your tank clean, consider adding a protein skimmer. That demand for nothing-but-the-best water is one of the reasons majestics aren’t the best choice for beginners.
Are Majestic Angelfish Reef-Safe?
If you want to add your new majestic to a reef tank, go slow. The jury’s out on whether or not they’re officially reef-safe. Some aquarists vouch for them, insisting they wouldn’t harm a polyp. Others have found them going after both large polyp stony (LPS) and small polyp stony (SPS) corals. Then you have the camp that says they’ll only terrorize soft corals.
Basically, you need to proceed with caution. As omnivores, majestics graze over their territory throughout the day. They’re not actively targeting corals, simply checking for morsels of food. The same goes for anemones. When a sea anemone expels waste, an angelfish can swoop in and sample the leftovers. They won’t go near an anemone that houses a clownfish (clownfish are MEAN about defending their property), and they never harm the tentacles around the oral disc.
If you’re worried? Set up a separate tank you can transfer your corals to – just in case.
Majestic Angelfish Diet
Majestic angelfish aren’t always the best eaters when they enter a new reef tank. Juveniles aren’t as prone to hunger strikes as adults, but most aquarists skip over youngsters. Luckily, as they’re omnivores, you have some flexibility in jump-starting their digestive tract. A few feedings with gut-loaded brine shrimp usually do the trick. If your picky adults still won’t bite, try offering clams on the half shell. (Yes, majestic angelfish can get expensive in their tastes) And then you can move on to a more well-balanced diet.
And you SHOULD keep their meals balanced. They’ll graze on the live rock, of course, but you want to make sure you give them supplemental feedings, too. A varied diet goes a long way toward keeping their colors vibrant. So provide a nice blend of protein and vegetable:
- Brine shrimp
- Chopped clams
- Mysis shrimp
- Romaine lettuce
Majestic Angelfish Behavior and Tank Mates
Majestic angelfish swim alone or in pairs over reefs and channels in lagoons throughout their range. They’re not as boisterous and outgoing as the French angelfish, preferring to keep a low profile whenever humans enter the picture. It makes them one of the shyer of the angelfish aquarists like to add to their aquariums.
As far as angelfish from the Pomacanthus genera go, majestics rank on the low end in terms of temperament. They only show aggression toward other angelfish – and that includes other majestics. This is why you’ll usually only keep one per tank. While you CAN keep a bonded pair, attempting to sex these fish isn’t easy. You could end up with two males – and a TON of fighting for the available territory. You don’t want that to happen.
Luckily, if you plan to house them with most other reef fish, they won’t cause problems. Majestics can hold their own with even semi-aggressive fish. (Provided, of course, you’ve given them places in the live rock to hide) Some of the most ideal tank mates include:
Breeding the Majestic Angelfish
Seeing pairs of majestic angelfish on a reef happens reasonably frequently. But managing to sort out which is the male and which the female? That’s close to impossible. They look identical. And that’s where you can end up in trouble if you plan to attempt breeding them in your reef tank. As you may recall, combining two male majestics in one tank can lead to injuries and even death from fighting.
Advanced aquarists will often recommend you introduce your two favorite colorful fish together and then watch them closely. If you see positive interactions, you might have lucked out and found a male-female pair. However, if you start to see signs of aggression, have a backup plan ready for one of them.
Majestic angelfish undergo a courtship display – whether in the wild or a suitably large aquarium. You’ll see them swim circles as they rise through the water column. At the top of this water pirouette, they release their eggs and sperm. Spawning typically happens during late afternoons and early evenings, and some lucky aquarists have witnessed the display. The eggs develop pelagically, and the fry drop down to shallow reefs.
Pros and Cons
While ANYONE would love to jump at the chance to bring a majestic angelfish home to their marine tank, you want to make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into first.
- Majestic angelfish are on the shyer and more peaceful side of the angelfish temperament scale, making them ideal for including in most marine tanks.
- As omnivores, majestics are easy to please when it comes time to menu plan.
- As long as you can get your hands on a male and female pair – and provide a suitable size tank – it IS possible to breed majestics in captivity.
- Officially, majestic angelfish are reef-safe. However, the jury remains undecided on whether or not that’s true. You may need to proceed with caution before adding one to a reef tank.
- While shy, majestics DON’T get along well with one another or other angelfish, and you usually can only handle one per tank.
- Due to the presence of their opercular spines, you need to take special care with any nets you deploy, so you don’t accidentally damage their gills.
For More Information
Even if you’ve walked past a tank of juvenile majestic angelfish, you stopped to stare in wonder at the adults. And finding out more about these stunning members of the Pomacanthus genus? That’s never a bad idea.
This YouTube video shows an adorable majestic bouncing around in a fish store tank (waiting for a new home):
Want to know about some of the best majestic angelfish tank mates?
Even if you can’t keep them in a tank together, you may find you want to know more about other angelfish species:
Majestic angelfish look every bit as fantastic as their name implies. Unfortunately, their water quality needs back that up, too. But if you prepare to take on the challenge, you’ll end up with the perfect addition to your marine tank. Even if you decide you’re better off OMITING corals from the mix – just in case.
- Allen, G.R. 1985. Butterfly and Angelfishes of the World, Volume 2.
- Allen, M., Steene, R., and Allen, G.R. 1998. A Guide to Angelfishes and Butterflyfishes.
- Michael, S.W. 2004. Angelfishes & Butterflyfishes: Reef Fishes Series.
- Michael, S.W. 1999. Marine Fishes: 500+ Essential-to-Know Aquarium Species.
- Schiemer, G. 2003. “Aquarium Fish: Pomacanthus navarchus – The Majestic Angelfish.” Reefs.