Home > Tips & Tricks > Designer Clownfish: What’s the Hype? + Examples

Designer Clownfish: What’s the Hype? + Examples

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 anemonefish (also known as 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 them 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. According to a 2021 study, the exact genetic systems behind this aren’t quite clear yet.

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 clowns 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 begun selectively breeding 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? The reason that mutations pop up so frequently in anemonefish is due to the fact that there is a lot of variation in their colors anyway. In the wild, many species have light and dark color morphs. Their patterns can vary too. Which color they are often depends on the type of anemone the local population likes to hang out with.

Black ocellaris clownfish in a reef aquarium
Naturally occuring color morph: the black ocellaris clownfish

Types of designer clownfish

We can’t possibly begin to list all the types of designer clownfish for you (although we’ll try)! New mutations pop up all the time and may or may not result in established breeding lines. ORA Farms, Sea & Reef and Proaquatix aquaculture companies in particular are very productive when it comes to new and unusual clowns.

Let’s have a look at the most popular designer clownfish by species. Remember that aquarium companies can slap any name they want on new varieties, so some completely different denominations can refer to the same color morph!

Be sure to tell us your favorite designer clownfish in the comments, or let us know if we’ve forgotten a variety—it’s hard to keep track.

Ocellaris designer clownfish

Wild ocellaris clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris) can be found in different colors and with varying patterns depending on the locality. We’ve already mentioned the majestic black ocellaris, which is naturally found around the Australian Northern Territory and therefore also sometimes referred to as “Darwin”. A Picasso-like variety with more white can also pop up.

In terms of designer ocellaris clowns produced through selective breeding, there’s a lot out there. Here are the most popular morphs:

  • Misbar ocellaris: Wonky-looking middle body bar that can be subtle or extreme. The misbar mutation can also be found in black fish.
  • Gladiator clownfish (also called DaVinci): With wider, irregular white striping, especially on the middle stripe. There’s also a mocha (see below) gladiator, as well as a wide bar gladiator with even wider barring.
  • Snowflake clownfish: The edges of the white body bars are very irregular, and they may be extremely wide. There’s also a black snowflake variety.
  • Mocha clownfish: Black + orange = mocha, which results in fish with a darker orange hue.
  • Naked clownfish: Naked indeed! These clowns lack any white stripes, and are fully orange with just some black fin edging.
  • Wyoming white clownfish: Almost entirely white, with some black barring as well as small amounts of orange on the face and fins. Very striking fish.
  • Frostbite clownfish: Refers to a pattern of black speckles on a white body, which can occur on both black and orange fish.
  • Tangerine clownfish: Almost melanistic, with no black coloration and pale colors. The eyes are quite light, kind of like an albino fish.
  • Zombie clownfish: Very similar to tangerines, but a dusting of black appears on the fins as they age.
  • Midnight clownfish: All black with just a dusting of orange on the face. There’s also a morph called “midnight lightning”, which has thin white striping.
  • Domino clownfish: Refers to almost “naked” fish with a single white spot on the gill cover, which can be seen in both black and mocha varieties.
  • Black ice clownfish: Very similar to the snowflake pattern, but with bolder black coloration.
  • Phantom clownfish: Black fish with highly irregular white coloration.
  • Storm clownfish: An extreme, mottled pattern that can be seen in normal, black, and mocha fish.
  • Long-finned clownfish: Most varieties can also be bred to have longer fins.
Wyoming white designer clownfish in the aquarium
Wyoming white ocellaris clownfish

Percula designer clownfish

There’s quite a bit of natural variation in percula clownfish, scientifically known as Amphiprion percula. The size and thickness of their white stripes can vary, as can the black bands around these and on their fins. They can be bright orange, or partially dusted with darker coloration.

As for percula clown color morphs created through selective breeding, you may come across the following:

  • Picasso clownfish: One of the most common designer clowns, which sports large amounts of irregular extra white coloration on its sides.
  • Platinum clownfish: Almost fully silvery-white, with some orange coloration left on the face.
  • Misbar clownfish: Resembles the original quite a bit, but the middle body bar is incomplete or looks “wonky”.
  • Onyx clownfish: Orange coloration is replaced by black, except on the face.
  • Snow onyx clownfish: A hybrid between ocellaris and percula clownfish, sporting large white patches and thick black banding.
  • Nebula clownfish: With a highly mottled pattern of black and white, and very little orange color.
  • Cheekspot clownfish: This refers to any color variety with a white spot just below the eye.
Picasso clownfish
A pair of Picasso perculas

Maroon designer clownfish

As with other clowns, there is a good bit of natural variation in wild maroon clownfish coloring. The most spectacular example of this is called the lightning maroon clown, with amazing lightning-like white striping.

As for man-made color morphs, there are a few of these as well:

  • Gold nugget maroon clownfish: Very unusual fish with an almost entirely golden body. Only the extremities (head and fins) are maroon in color. There’s also the “GoldLightning” maroon clown, which is the result of a cross between gold nuggets and the lightning morph.
  • Morse code maroon clownfish: Looks a lot like a normal maroon clown, but with small white dots on random parts of the body.
  • Goldflake maroon clownfish: Similar to a normal gold-striped variety, but with much wider body bars.
  • Snowflake maroon clownfish: With exaggerated body barring and lacking a lot of the dark pigment, leading to a paler fish.
Gold nugget maroon clownfish in the aquarium
The unusual gold nugget maroon clownfish

Other designer clownfish

  • Spotcinctus clownfish: A play on the scientific name of Amphiprion bicinctus (Red Sea clown), this one has two wide body bars accompanied by random mottling and spots.
  • Pearl eye clarkii clownfish: Regular-looking clarkii clowns with an unusual blueish-white spot in the eyes.
  • Deluxe clarkii clownfish: Clarkii clowns with a single white bar on the gill cover and a pale yellow color. Can feature random spotting on the body.
  • Picasso clarkii clownfish: Yep, the Picasso gene also exists in clarkiis!

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.

Are designer clownfish unhealthy?

There’s a lot of talk of designer clowns 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, however, 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 ich. Others experience no issues whatsoever.

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

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


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.

Sources & further reading

Klann, M., Mercader, M., Carlu, L., Hayashi, K., Reimer, J. D., & Laudet, V. (2021). Variation on a theme: pigmentation variants and mutants of anemonefish. EvoDevo, 12(1), 8.

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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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