Introduction to the True Percula Clownfish

Amphiprion percula, better known as the True Percula Clownfish is one of the most prized, loved and sought-after fish in the hobby, second to its very similar looking cousin the Ocellaris or False Percula Clownfish, Amphiprion ocellaris, (a.k.a Nemo).

These two fish look almost identical to one another but have distinct natural distributions with almost no overlap. This beautiful little Orange Anemonefish is a fantastic addition to both beginner and advanced setups.

The True Percula Clownfish

True Percula Clownfish Quick Facts

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 10 gal (40 L)
  • Size of fish: 3.5 inches (8.8 cm)
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Temperature: 74.0 to 82.0° F (23.3 to 27.8° C)
  • pH Range: 7.8-8.4
  • Diet: Omnivore

The Percula Clownfish colors range from almost completely orange or completely white, to white and black and many variations of these combinations. They are also known by such common names as the Orange Anemonefish, Eastern Clown Anemonefish, Eastern Clownfish, Blackfinned Clownfish, Percula Anemonefish, Percula Clownfish and the Orange Clownfish.

These Clownfish have been bred successfully within captivity many times and as a result many “designer” color combinations have been created. The “Picasso Clownfish” is a very popular term that is being used, as just like a Picasso- no two fish are exactly the same. Other variations include the Platinum Percula Clownfish, Snow Onyx Percula and Mis-Bar Percula. You can be confident that you will be paying a premium when purchasing a Picasso fish or other designer variations. On the bright side, they are known for their long-life spans and durability in the aquarium, so your investment is well worth it if you look after them.

The Percula Clownfish is not as big as the Ocellaris as they will typically only reach around 3” long. They are in fact the smallest out of all the Clownfish but are still very hard to differentiate as their colors are so similar to one another -a very keen eye is required. When the Ocellaris Clownfish have their original coloring, they won’t have such thick, well defined black edging around their white bars. The True Percula Clownfish will be seen with this trait. The dorsal fin is the only other real distinctive difference between these two, with Percula Clownfish having 10 dorsal spines (and in rare cases 9) and the Ocellaris having 11. The Dorsal fin on the Ocellaris also has a larger front half.

These clownfish are the only members found in the Percula Complex. They do share a similar lineage with each other and surprisingly with the Maroon Clownfish, Premnas biaculeatus, as well. This can be seen when observing their body shapes and swimming habits. Through molecular phylogenetic analysis biologists who specialize in fish have been able to show a common ancestry that all 3 of these Clownfish types share. This process is used to analyze DNA and protein sequences as well as many other things. It has even been suggested that the False Percula Clownfish and the True Percula would be put into the Maroon Clownfish genus as there is such strong similarities between them all.

True Percula Clownfish tend to always get along with other fish that are peaceful or semi-aggressive. Having an Anemone will protect them from other boisterous fish like the 5-line wrasses and don’t always seem too bothered by larger more intimidating fish. It is recommended not to house them with fish that could swallow them whole e.g. larger eels and Groupers. They should also not be kept in nano tanks with fish such as Dottybacks.

When compared to their cousins, they are a bit more aggressive towards their own kind, so it is best to either keep them as a mated pair or singly. They can be housed with Skunk Clownfish if both species have host anemones that are at least 2 feet apart from each other. Try avoiding housing them with the Maroon Clownfish and with most of the Clarkii Clownfish unless you have a very large tank. This is due to the fact that these fish are just to aggressive to be kept in close proximity to one another unless your tank is at least 6-foot-long or bigger and can allow each of the Clownfish an anemone located at opposite ends. Maroon Clownfish have been known to swim over to other sides of tanks that are 4 foot, just to attack other Clownfish.

The True Percula Clownfish has a fairly deep body, with an elongated body that is similar to that of the Maroon clowns and the Ocellaris. They will have 10 dorsal spines, and in rare cases just 9 with a deep dip in the middle of their dorsal fin which can make it look as though there is 2 of them. Their tail fin is rounded which does prevent them from being very agile swimmers.

A Black Percula Clownfish

Aquarium Setup

Clownfish are able to be kept in both large saltwater tanks or mini reefs. The True Percula is the smallest of all Clownfish variations, so a tank size should have 10 gallons at the minimum as long as water quality is maintained. This 10 gallons would be for 1 fish, with 20 gallons needed for a pair. If your tank does not have an anemone, ensure there are plenty of places to hide and do not add aggressive tank mates. Anemones are recommended but not essential for the Clownfish as they will adapt to their surroundings. They can be seen utilizing other corals, invertebrates, structures and substrates for safety. Live rock is recommended for both hiding in and foraging amongst.

If you are attempting to house them with an Anemone, ensure your tank is at least 55 gallons or bigger, which may change depending on species and individual anemone requirements. Clownfish do not require any specific lighting, but the anemone will do. It needs good water flow and the tank should be mature and well established, 6 months or more with over a year being preferable. Most other fish will spend their time avoiding the Anemones tentacles, while your Clownfish will be found nestled amongst them.

The tropical areas they live in are generally around 80° F (26.7° C), with temperatures of between 74° – 82° F (23.3 – 27.8° C) working best inside your aquarium. Anything above or below these ideal ranges can cause major problems for them. Optimal spawning will occur at temperatures between 79°F to 83°F (26°C to 28°C). These fish will tolerate pH levels of between 7.8-8.4.

True Percula Clownfish Quick Aquarium Guide

  • Minimum Tank Size: 10 gal (76 L) – A minimum of 10 gallons is required for a single fish, with 20 gallons plus for a pair
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: Yes – Strict water maintenance is required
  • Live Rock Requirement: Yes – Will hide in caves and secluded sections of rock-work
  • Substrate Type: Any
  • Lighting Needs: Any
  • Temperature: 74.0 to 82.0° F (23.3 to 27.8° C)
  • Breeding Temperature: 79°F to 83°F (26.1°C to 28.3°C)
  • Specific gravity: 1.023 – 1.025 SG
  • pH Range: 7.8 – 8.4
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Any
  • Water Region: All areas, usually around their host Anemone

Back to top

A True Percula with its host Anemone

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The True Percula Clownfish is recommended to all hobbyists and especially beginners as they are durable and easy to care for in the home aquarium- especially if they have been bred in captivity. They are known for being pretty resistant to most infectious diseases and are rarely seen with any. Members from the Amphiprion group are known for being hardy and will respond well to being treated with copper or medicine if they do get infected. Like most other Clownfish, they can be bred with proper techniques and raised well in tanks.

It appears that wild caught specimens are more often in better physical shape than their Ocellaris cousins. This is probably because of the high demand for the Ocellaris variety and fetch a higher price. However, they will need more time to adapt to the home aquarium than the captive bred ones, with clean water and live foods greatly increasing these chances. As they are used to having host anemones, wild caught fish should be provided with an anemone. An anemone doesn’t need to always be provided if the other tank mates are peaceful and non-confronting. If they are put into stressful situations, and can’t hide in an anemone, they will fall ill to disease and die as is typical with all saltwater fish. Having an anemone to host them allows you much more freedom when choosing appropriate tanks mates.

Foods and Feeding

The True Percula Clownfish is an omnivore. In the wild they will be seen feeding on algae, very small shrimp, polychaete worms, fish larvae, planktonic fish eggs and Anemone tentacles. You should provide a diet that is varied with meaty foods like brine and mysis shrimp and finely chopped shrimp and fish. It is also good to feed them flakes and pellets with Spirulina added if your tank does not have much algae in it.

Adults should be feed twice a day with 3-4 feeds being offered to juveniles. They should consume their food in about 3 minutes. Keeping them fed will ensure your tanks population of copepods is sustained. An area in the tank where water flow isn’t too strong is recommended so they can feed easier.

True Percula Clownfish Quick Feeding Guide

  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Flake Foods: Yes – Clownfish specific flake food
  • Pellet Foods: Yes – Clownfish specific pellet food
  • Live foods: Occassionaly, especially for a breeding pair when they are spawning
  • Vegetable Food: 10% of their diet
  • Meaty Food: 90% of their diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Several times per day. Keeping them well fed will stop them eating copepods or nipping at other corals.

Back to top

The deeply colored True Percula Clownfish in a home aquarium

Sex Differences

Females are larger than the males.

Breeding / Reproduction

True Percula Clownfish have been bred very successfully in captivity with fry reared. All Clownfish will be undifferentiated at birth but will switch sex later on in life if needed. Social cues will see them change into juvenile males and when the opportunity presents itself, the most dominant one will switch to become a female fish. In order to gain a pair, ensure you get 2 different sized fish so that the larger will quickly take on the female gender and the smaller male remains as he is. Clownfish will not spawn for their entire lives with this stopping many years before their life expectancy is over.

In the wild they will spawn when the water is 79°F to 83°F (26.1°C to 28.3°C) as well as in captivity. It is quite important to feed them with nutritious foods in order to fatten them up. Courtship will occur between 3-5 days before spawning, with the females belly beginning to swell with eggs during this time.

As males and females get closer to spawning they will enthusiastically clean an area of rock located very close to their host anemone. This is where their eggs will eventually be stuck onto, so it needs to be cleaned properly. Various rituals can be observed such as touching their ventral surfaces, head standing and leaning towards each other shaking their heads as their dorsal surfaces are touching.

When females are ready to lay their eggs, they will nip at the Anemone, so it retracts and exposes the spawning site. They will then lay their eggs with the male quickly following with fertilization. Late morning to early afternoon is when most spawning is known to occur which can last up to 3 hours. A clutch of these eggs from the Percula Clownfish can be anywhere between 60-700 with an average of 300. Eggs will hatch on the eighth day which usually occurs during the night at around 1 hour after the sun has set and will hatch within a two-hour period where the larvae will eventually ascend into the water column.

Between 8-16 days after, any larvae that has survived from not being eaten or survived fungus or other maladies in captivity, will become free swimming Clownfish. The search for their host anemone will begin for protection asap. There are two forms of recognition of the host anemone that will occur when these fish are actually still growing in their eggs. The first is the scent that each individual anemone gives off when the eggs have been laid, or the actual visual recognition of their parents who are swimming amongst the tentacles. Interestingly, it has been recorded that the Elephant Ear Mushroom coral will emit a similar smell that can lure young juvenile fish to the clutches of this large mushroom, ending their new life very quickly.

In captivity, they will lay between 300-600 eggs per nest and will generally spawn once a month but may also spawn more, around every 3 weeks. The True Percula Clownfish is known to mature more slowly than the Ocellaris Clownfish. These Clownfish will take around 7-8 months to just grow 1.5 inches which is usually when they are considered ready for the market. Ocellaris Clownfish will reach this size a couple of months earlier.

Back to top

Social and Compatibility

The True Percula Clownfish is rated as being semi-aggressive. Like all other Clownfish, they are very much at home in a reef setup but will also do fine in a fish only environment. They are known for becoming more grumpy as they age. They will do fine as a single fish or in a pair and will generally not tolerate others outside of this pair. If kept with an anemone, they will most likely remain peaceful with other fish in the tank. They will become more aggressive if hosted by an anemone as they will protect it, but still considered less aggressive than the other clown species.

In summary, they are a peaceful little fish that should ideally be housed with other peaceful tank mates. If you are keeping them in a tank that is under 55 gallons and without an anemone, then you need to ensure you do not house them with any aggressive or even semi-aggressive fish. However, when provided with an anemone to host them, they will be able to tolerate semi-aggressive fish species as long as they are not large enough to swallow them whole. They are able to be housed with semi-aggressive large fish like wrasses and tangs provided they have places to retreat. These Clownfish should never be housed with any species from the Clarkii complex, Maroon complex or Tomato Clownfish, Ephippium, as these types of Clownfish are much too aggressive with other clowns or even with each other.

Clownfish Compatibility

When Clownfish are being attacked or are doing the attacking, they will produce between 2-17 clicks in a row. They will sometimes also produce “pops” that will be aimed at smaller fish, and “chirps” that are aimed at the larger fish. These noises are audible to both divers and tank owners. They will remain silent when mating however. Pops can be heard in sets of 1 or 2 and right before a chirp noise – so its possible they could be holding multiple conversations at once like warding off a larger predator while warning a smaller intruder.

These sounds are produced by using their teeth, with their jaw acting as a built-in amplifier for the sound. Because of this, noises will be different from species to species, just like a different accent or dialect. Audible sounds are produced from 29 different types of Clownfish with some being louder than others. The Pink Skunk Clownfish, Tomato Clownfish and the Clark’s Clownfish are known to have the loudest of noises.

The behaviors between the same species of clownfish are easily identifiable and very interesting to observe. A male will be prevented from changing into a female with the constant displays of dominance from the female. A subordinate clownfish will display “appeaser behaviors” while the dominate fish will display more “agonistic behavior”. The subordinate clownfish will react to behaviors displayed by the dominate fish.

Compatibility In A Nano Tank

Clownfish will fit perfectly into a reef setting especially when provided with an anemone. They generally won’t bother any other corals with the small exception of picking algae from the base of a coral that they may have adopted as a host. Host anemones provide the Clownfish with rich naturalistic environments. Other fish will avoid the anemone with great care in order to not be stung and/or eaten, whereas your Clownfish will spend most of their time comfortably nested amongst its tentacles. Although incredibly beneficial for your Clownfish, anemones can be very difficult to care for in your home aquarium, so ensure you choose wisely and are able to create an environment that is going to work.

Clownfish have been known to choose alternative hosts to anemones like some LPS corals, Hairy mushrooms, Xenia or even some filamentous algae. Great care must be taken with the Elephant Ear Mushroom, Amplexidiscus fenestrafer, or as this coral is known to trap and eat young Clownfish.

Compatible Host Anemones

A “symbiotic relationship” or “symbiosis” are the terms given to the relationship between Ocellaris Clownfish and their host Aanemones as they provide benefits for each other. In the wild, these Clownfish in particular will stay within 12” of their host anemone. The Clownfish have an immunity (through mucous on their skin) to the sting of the anemone, allowing them to live inside it and remain safe from larger predatory fish. The bright coloration on the Clownfish can identify to the predator that they may get stung if they come to close to the anemone. In return, the Clownfish will protect the anemone from other fish that may try and eat the anemone.

Marine biologists have done studies in the wild, where they have removed Clownfish from their anemones, and showed these Anemones soon attacked by other various fish species. Clownfish are also known to clean debris from the anemone and will snack on any left overs from meals the anemone has had. They will produce organic waste which will in fact provide “nutrition” for the Anemone.

Sea anemones are always beautiful additions to your reef tank but come with many challenges. When Clownfish are being kept with an anemone, they will rarely venture further than around 12” from their host. Despite rarely bothering other fish or corals, they should ideally be kept at least 2 feet away from any other anemone and Clownfish pairs. This setup will require a larger tank and adequate spacing for all involved.

Anemones that the True Percula are known to bond with in the wild include:

• Merten’s Carpet Anemone, Stichodactyla mertensi
• Giant Carpet Anemone, Stichodactyla gigantean
• Magnificent Sea Anemone, Ritteri Anemone Heteractis magnifica
The Sebae Anemone, Heteractis crispa

You should be cautious adding a Condy Anemone to your tank. These anemones are very mobile and classed as predatory anemones who aren’t known for hosting Clownfish. They have a much stronger sting that other clown hosting anemones with a high risk of death for Clownfish who dare to try and get close to them.

A True Percula Pair

Diseases

Clownfish are known for generally being pretty hardy little fish, so its not often they fall ill in well cared for aquariums. Unfortunately, though, when they do become sick they can die quickly. Clownfish will be susceptible to the same diseases as all other marine fish including parasites, fungus, bacteria and injuries. Saltwater fish will become sick if a high level of water quality is not maintained, if temperatures fluctuate too often or there are too higher levels of stress causing factors in the tank like aggressive tank mates. Constantly stressed fish will become ill quickly.

It is well known that Clownfish are especially prone to Clownfish Disease, Brooklynella hostilis, (Brook) or Brooklynellosis, Marine Ich irritants better known as White Spot Disease, Velvet Disease Oodinium ocellatum, Branchiophilus maris, Marine Velvet or crypt and Uronema disease, Uronema marinum. These are all parasites.

Crypt aka. Salt water Ich., is the most easily cured of all these.  They are all easily treatable if you catch the symptoms early enough. Marine Velvet is one of the most common maladies to be caught in a home aquarium, it is a parasitic skin flagellate. Is moves very quickly and primarily infects the gills of the fish.

Brook will kill a fish within 30 hours but Uronema disease is without a doubt one of the quickest killers as it will take a fish out overnight. Uronema is generally contracted when salinity levels are dropped, often to treat other types if illnesses but it doesn’t get lowered enough. This parasite will thrive in medium levels of brackish water, with a salinity level of around 1.013-1.020

It is very important to ensure you treat any illness at a normal salinity level of around 1.023 or down at a much lower level like 1.009. Quick cure and other 37% Formalin products will work very well in both of the above salinity ranges, however a level of 1.009 with help in reducing the oxygen level. Oxygen levels in the water are increased as salinity levels are reduced.

Back to top

Amphiprion percula closeup