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Designer Clownfish: What’s the Hype?

If you’ve ever seen a funny-patterned clownfish in your local aquarium store accompanied by an impressive price tag, you may be wondering what’s going on. It’s true: ‘designer clownfish’, as they’re commonly called, can be very expensive. But what’s the hype? What is a designer clownfish, where do they come from, and should you want one?

Let’s go into everything you need to know about designer clownfish.

What is a designer clownfish?

We agree the name itself is not very informative! ‘Designer clownfish’ is a name used to refer to clownfish that have been selectively bred for certain traits, usually color or pattern. The trend of breeding funky-looking clownfish has sprouted relatively recently, as it hasn’t been that long since aquarists discovered how to efficiently aquaculture clownfish on a commercial scale.

So what’s this selective breeding thing? For those who don’t know what the term means, consider wild clownfish. Occasionally, a clown will hatch in the wild that looks different from others due to a mutation in one of the genes that regulate its color or pattern. In most cases, these odd-looking fish don’t manage to reproduce and pass on the mutation, as they might stand out too much and be eaten, or alternatively be unable to find a mate because they’re too different.

In aquaculture, breeders can select unusual-looking clownfish from their stock and carefully breed them with selected mates in order to create offspring with the same mutation (selective breeding). This can eventually lead to stable lines of special-looking fish that produce (mostly) offspring that sports the same special look.

And there you have it: designer clownfish. It’s the same thing we humans have done to create different-looking dogs, cats, parakeets, goldfish, vegetables… you name it.

Now that they know how to breed clownfish in captivity, breeders have started selectively breeding with all sorts of color mutations, leading to the broad range of fancy clownfish you wouldn’t see in the wild. Most of them are Amphiprion ocellaris, the Ocellaris clownfish, but other species of designer clownfish have also been gaining popularity.

Did you know? You can technically breed your own designer clownfish, as breeding clownfish is possible at home. It’s expensive and time-consuming, though, so mostly reserved for the real aficionados.

Picasso clownfish

Types of designer clownfish

We can’t possibly begin to list all the types of designer clownfish for you! New mutations pop up all the time and may or may not result in established breeding lines. Just take a look at ORA’s list of clownfish for an idea of the variety out there.

A few of the most common designer clownfish, which you might be able to encounter at your local aquarium store, include:

  • Picasso clownfish (Amphiprion percula): Extra white coloration.
  • Snowflake clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris): Extra, irregular white coloration
  • Midnight clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris): Completely black
  • Naked clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris): Lacks white coloration
  • Lightning maroon clownfish (Premnas biaculeatus): Irregular white color
  • Darwin clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris): No orange, black with white
  • Phantom clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris): Black with irregular white coloration

There are even long-finned clownfish varieties, which can sport any of the normal and ‘designer’ colors or patterns but have long, flowy fins. Additionally, you might find hybrids. For example, the “Snow Onyx” clownfish is a cross between A. ocellaris × A. percula.

Did you know? Why are some fancy clownfish so expensive? It’s always about supply and demand. New, special varieties attract attention, while more established and common lines drop in price.

Snow Onyx designer clownfish
The Snow Onyx clownfish is a hybrid: a cross between two species in the same genus.

Are designer clownfish unhealthy?

There’s a lot of talk of designer clownfish being more fragile than their wild-type counterparts. Some even assume they’re genetically modified! The latter is definitely not the case: the genetic mutation that makes them different is naturally occurring. There is a point to be made for the former.

Some designer clownfish can be less hardy in the aquarium due to a certain level of inbreeding required to make sure the genetic mutation causing its special color or pattern is carried on. In most cases, this doesn’t become a problem because breeders cull any imperfect stock and only continue with the healthiest fish.

Still, some aquarists do report that designer clownfish can be more susceptible to diseases like marine velvet and ick. Others experience no issues whatsoever.

Conclusion

Overall, the great thing about designer clownfish is that they’ve really given captive clownfish aquaculture a boost. Regular readers will know we’re all about captive breeding here at FantaSEA, because it’s a sustainable option that prevents our hobby from damaging natural fish and coral populations.

A clownfish aquarium with a couple of spectacular designer clownfish is sure to catch anyone’s eye. If you’d like one for your home and office, we can design, build and maintain it for you so all you have to do is enjoy your tank! Just contact us here with your ideas.

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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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