If you’ve ever seen Finding Nemo, or the tanks full of colorful clownfish at the local pet store, you might have asked yourself: where does a clownfish live? In the wild, we mean, when it’s not in a glass rectangle in our living room. After all, knowing a bit about a fish species’ wild habitat can tell us a lot about how to care for it in captivity!
Let’s go into clownfish habitat and where some of the most popular clownfish species can be found in the wild (hint: It’s not 42 Wallaby Way!).
Where does a clownfish live in the wild?
Many variety of clownfish exist. In fact, there are about 30 recognized species across two genera (one in the genus Premnas, the rest in the genus Amphiprion). All of these clowns are spread out over a pretty wide natural zone, with some of them occurring over an expansive range and others being limited to a specific, small area.
Specifically, clownfish are found in the Indian Ocean – they don’t exist in the Atlantic. Here, they occur, among other places, in the Red Sea, the Pacific and the famous Australian Great Barrier reef. In many cases, they can be spotted while diving, because they favor shallow reef areas. That’s where they find their natural hosts: a few specific species of anemone.
Clownfish maintain a symbiotic relationship with anemones. These Hexacorallias (the subclass that anemones belong to) provide protection as well as food to the clowns, stinging unwanted visitors with their tentacles and catching debris and small critters that the clownfish can eat. In turn, the clownfish poop provides an excellent source of nutrients for the anemone.
There are several species of clownfish commonly kept in the aquarium, with the most popular being the ocellaris clownfish. Let’s have a look a where you can find some of the most common clownfish species in the wild!
- Ocellaris clownfish (also false percula clownfish/common clownfish, Amphiprion ocellaris): The eastern Indian Ocean and western Pacific. Basically both sides of Australia! It can be found in the shallows.
- True percula clownfish (also Picasso clownfish, Amphiprion percula): Shallow waters off the north-west coast of Australia as well as a small range in Japan and Southeast Asia.
- Tomato clownfish (Amphiprion frenatus): Western Pacific, Southeast Asia up to Japan. Shallow reefs as always.
- Maroon clownfish (Premnas biaculeatus): Western Pacific, Southeast Asia, down to northern Australia and up to Japan.
- Clarkii clownfish: Wide distribution, as far west as the Persian Gulf to east Australia and the archipelagos beyond. Because of this, it’s also not very specific about the species of host anemone it prefers.
- Pink skunk clownfish: Occurs at a greater depth than most other species. It can be found off both western and eastern Australia as well as as far north as southern Japan.
What kind of aquarium does a clownfish need in captivity?
As discussed in the introduction, having a look at a the natural habitat of a fish species you’re interested in can help figure out how to set up your aquarium to help make it feel at home. With clownfish, it’s quite clear that they’re a great option for the (aspiring) reef keeper. They’re considered reef safe and most (though not all, always check beforehand!) are relatively peaceful, possibly with the exception of defending their host anemone or coral.
Speaking of hosts, you don’t actually have to use an anemone. This comes in handy, as they do tend to be somewhat difficult to keep in many cases. Instead, if you want to provide your clownfish with a host, you can consider going for something like a torch coral (Euphyllia glabrescens), which many will also gladly claim as their territory.
As for aquarium size, small species like the ocellaris clownfish don’t need much more than a 20 gallon tank. Some aquarists suggest that even smaller set-ups can work. Large species, like the maroon clownfish, should ideally be kept in an aquarium of 50 gallons or bigger. This especially applies if you’re interested in keeping a pair rather than a single specimen
If you’re dreaming of a beautiful reef aquarium full of clownfish and coral or anemone hosts, you’ve come to the right place. FantaSEA Aquariums can design, set up and maintain a tank for your home or office. You don’t even have to get your hands wet! You can contact us here with your ideas.