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Maroon Clownfish | Caring For Nemo’s Feisty Cousin

The maroon clownfish (Amphiprion biaculeatus) is one of the most popular aquarium fish available, which is not surprising given their spectacular colors. Unfortunately, this species is also a rather bad neighbor, so you need to consider their aggression level before adding one to your tank.

Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about the maroon clownfish and its care, including where it’s from, what it needs in the aquarium, what it eats, and how to breed it.

Name (Common, Scientific)Maroon clownfish, spine-cheeked anemonefish, Amphiprion biaculeatus
Minimum tank size30 gallons
Minimum group size1
Temperature74-82 °F
Salinity1.020-1.025
pH8.1-8.4
Difficulty levelIntermediate

Maroon clownfish description & natural habitat

Description

The maroon clownfish, scientifically known as Amphiprion biaculeatus, is a species of anemonefish. Despite its name, it’s not actually always maroon in color. Females can be, but males and younger fish are actually a more typical “clownfish orange”.

This species is one of the larger clownfish, with the larger females attaining a length of up to 6″. Males stay a lot smaller, usually not reaching even half of that.

Similar to many other clownfish species, local populations of maroon clowns can vary strongly in terms of color and pattern. There are even wild populations with yellow body stripes, something that isn’t seen in any other clown.

Their tendency to adapt their appearances to local conditions probably explains why clownfish, including maroons, are so easy to breed selectively for color. Different color morphs have popped up over the years, including the spectacular “lightning” maroon and the stunning white-bodied “gold nugget” maroon by ORA Farm.

Be prepared to pay extra for these “designer clownfish“, though!

Male and female maroon clownfish in bubble tip anemone
Female maroon clownfish (top) are much larger than the males. Their color also tends to be darker, and their white bars narrower.

Taxonomy

A short note on this species’ scientific name, to clear any confusion: the maroon clownfish was long thought to be different from other anemonefish, mainly due to its unique cheek spine. As a result, it was categorized in a genus called Premnas when it was first described in 1816, separate from all the other clownfish (which are in the genus Amphiprion).

The species remained the only member of Premnas until 2021. Although many aquarists and even professionals in the hobby still call it by its old name, it was in fact moved to Amphiprion after a study revealed that it is indeed very closely related to them.

This study’s conclusion is supported by the fact that maroon clowns can indeed interbreed with some other species in the genus Amphiprion. Some aquarium stores sell hybrids of maroon clownfish and ocellaris clownfish, for example. These are called “blood orange clownfish”.

Natural habitat

Maroon clownfish are native to the Indo-Pacific. They can be found off the coasts of countries like Indonesia, The Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Thailand, Vietnam, and similar. They also inhabit Australia’s famous Great Barrier Reef.

In their natural habitat, these anemonefish prefer shallow waters, like reef slopes and lagoons with a maximum depth of around 60 ft.

The maroon clownfish is considered to be a highly specialized species. Unlike something like the ocellaris clownfish, which accepts three different types of anemones in the wild, maroons will only go for one: Entacmaea quadricolor, better known as the bubble tip anemone.

Also quite unlike many other clowns, this one usually isn’t found in groups. It lives alone if it hasn’t found a mate yet; if it has, it will stay monogamous and share the anemone, not letting any other fish come close.

The IUCN Red List considers Amphiprion biaculeatus to be a species of Least Concern. It does note that, like other reef species, the population is under pressure from climate change and irresponsible fishing methods like dynamite fishing.

Did you know? Amazingly, maroon clownfish larvae can select an anemone based only on chemical cues. Using their sense of smell, they know how to tell an uninhabited anemone from an occupied one, and they also know whether it’s occupied by a single male (preferable), a single female, or a pair (definitely not preferable, as the newbie will be kicked out).

Amphiprion biaculeatus clownfish female in an anemone, close-up

Maroon clownfish aquarium

When setting up a maroon clownfish aquarium, consider whether you’d like to keep a single fish or a pair. For a solo maroon, a 30-gallon minimum tank size should be sufficient. If you want a pair, then it’s best to go for a tank of 55 gallons or up. Remember, the females grow to 6″ in length!

Now, you’re probably wondering about the anemone thing. Unfortunately, most anemones are considered to be rather unsuitable for anything but the largest display tanks and the most experienced aquarists, as they’re finicky and can be difficult to care for.

The bubble tip anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor), the natural host of the maroon clownfish, is one of the easier anemones, but still not the best for beginning aquarists. Luckily, clownfish don’t technically need an anemone. They do fine without them.

If you do want to offer your clown(s) something, they may also pair up with torch corals or soft corals like mushrooms. These are much less demanding than anemones.

Maroon clownfish compatibility

Scientists have suggested the reason for the maroon’s aggressive nature is the fact that they only inhabit one type of anemone—one that’s also very popular among other clownfish species. Because of all this competition, it had to evolve to become rather ruthless. And that cheek spine can do a lot of damage!

Whether you keep a solo maroon or a pair, your clownfish will consider the entire aquarium to be its territory. It will viciously defend its space from its tankmates. As a result, there are some specific rules you should play by if you want to keep these fish in a community tank.

If you don’t have much aquarium experience yet, we recommend just keeping your maroon clowns in a single-species set-up, or maybe with some snails or shrimp.

If you do want a community, here’s how to somewhat work around this species’ aggression level:

  • In a community tank, the maroon clownfish should always be added last.
  • If you keep a pair of maroons, the tank should have plenty of hides where the male can take refuge from the extra-feisty and larger female.
  • You CANNOT keep maroon clownfish with other species of clownfish.

In terms of suitable tankmates, you could consider dwarf angels, royal grammas, blennies, small wrasses like the six-line, hawkfish, pajama cardinalfish, and similar. Though remember, there’s never an absolute guarantee that things will work out!

Solo or pair?

We know it sounds like you’re better off not keeping maroon clownfish in pairs—the females really can be quite nasty to the males—but it is the more natural option. They live in pairs in the wild and you won’t see the full extent of their behavior if you keep them alone.

For a successful pairing, it’s recommended to combine a large and a small specimen. The larger fish is likely a female, or will turn into one (the joys of protandrous hermaphroditism!). The smaller will remain male, and hopefully not try to fight the hierarchy too much.

Amphiprion biaculeatus or maroon clownfish in an anemone

Maroon clownfish diet

These anemonefish are naturally omnivores, feeding on a combination of algae and all sorts of zooplankton in the wild. This varied diet means they’re not picky eaters in the aquarium.

You can feed your maroon clowns a base diet of high-quality pellet and flake food. Supplement with a variety of frozen foods, such as brine shrimp and mysis. They may also be interested in nori (seaweed) or algae tablets.

Feeding 2-3 times a day works best, although it’s not a problem if you miss a feeding here and there.

Breeding maroon clownfish

Like other anemonefish, maroon clownfish are considered reasonably easy to breed at home. If you’ve got a pair and are looking for a new aquarium challenge, give it a shot! It’s absolutely fascinating to see the courtship ritual and observe the parents carefully tending to their fry.

Check out our clownfish breeding guides:

Conclusion

Maroon clownfish are spectacular-looking fish with bold personalities, but their aggressive nature makes them difficult to keep. If you’d like a beautiful clownfish reef tank but don’t have the time or expertise to maintain it yourself, we can help!

Contact FantaSEA Aquariums here with your custom tank ideas so we can design, set up, and maintain your aquarium for you.

Dixson, D. L., & Jones, G. P. (2018). Influence of prior residents on settlement preferences in the anemonefish, Premnas biaculeatus. Coral Reefs, 37(2), 519-526.

Fautin, D. G. (1986). Why do anemonefishes inhabit only some host actinians?. Environmental Biology of Fishes, 15, 171-180.

Ollerton, J., McCollin, D., Fautin, D. G., & Allen, G. R. (2007). Finding NEMO: nestedness engendered by mutualistic organization in anemonefish and their hosts. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 274(1609), 591-598.

Tang, K. L., Stiassny, M. L., Mayden, R. L., & DeSalle, R. (2021). Systematics of damselfishes. Ichthyology & Herpetology, 109(1), 258-318.

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Marijke Puts

Hey! I'm Marijke, FantaSEA's resident blog writer. I'm a full-time pop science author, part-time PADI diver and snorkeler, and have been keeping fish since I was a kid. When I'm not writing fish care guides, you can usually find me underwater or trying to figure out how to fit more tanks into my house.

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