After years of experience in the freshwater fishkeeping scene, I first dabbled in the saltwater aquarium hobby in 2018 with a pair of clownfish.
The Finding Nemo effect, naturally.
I thought I did pretty well for a first-timer. Both my fish survived around 3 years and died only a couple of months apart. So, I assumed that was the average clownfish lifespan.
Now, you can imagine the shock and horror I felt when I found out some people have had their clownfish for over 30 years. Yes, 30. You read that right.
And that was my ticket to the rabbit hole. I scoured through the web, looking for answers to my questions like searching for a needle in the haystack.
Frankly, it was confusing. While most sites mentioned that these fish live for around 3-10 years in captivity, I came across several hobbyists that have commemorated their clownfish’s 20th or 30th birthday.
I didn’t even spare research journals. And luckily, that’s where I found the answers to most of my questions and some more interesting facts.
In this article, I’ll shed light on how long do clownfish live in captivity and in the wild, the average lifespan for various clownfish species, and the secret behind their longevity.
It’s going to be a long ride, my friend! Buckle up.
How Long Do Clownfish Live?
Clownfish can live for anywhere between 3-30 years on average. The answer is such a wide stretch because several factors come into play when determining their lifespan. The clownfish’s species, environment, company, and diet are a few.
How Long Do Clownfish Live In Captivity?
The average lifespan for a properly kept clownfish in captivity is between 3-10 years. But if the environment is favorable, don’t be surprised if your clownfish outlive all your other pets and make it to their 30th birthday!
Below, I have shared real answers by real people on the subject. I hope this will help you come to a well-informed conclusion!
How Long Do Clownfish Live In Captivity? Real Answers By Real People!
“I have a mated pair that are 12 years of age, which I still consider pretty young. Their lifespan ought to be 25+ if the tank is kept in order.”
“People have kept their clownfish into their 30’s.”
“I have seen a number of posts of clownfish going strong over 30 years.”
“20-30 years is possible for those with good genetics. But I highly doubt many of the newer designer clowns will last anywhere near that potential.”
“Mass-produced clownfish are usually seen to be in the 10-year range or so. Still pretty good, though!
“I’m not sure if tank-bred or designer clownfish have been around long enough to really tell yet. But I think they can live just as long as their all-natural counterparts provided that the tank runs without issues.”
“My tank-bred clownfish lasted about 12 years. They were normal ocellaris, which have probably been mass-produced for longer than we think.”
“I have had a pair since 2005. So, I’d guess they are over 13 years old now.”
“My clownfish is 14 and still spawning intermittently in a 90-gallon tank.”
“I have a mated period that is soon going to reach the tenth birthday milestone.”
As clear from the quotes above, clownfish definitely live longer than 3 years in captivity. Many hobbyists shared they’ve had them for around 10-15 years.
And while clownfish reaching 30 years of age is not impossible, it does seem like a rarity!
Now, let’s see how long they live in the wild.
How Long Do Clownfish Live In The Wild?
Clownfish are known to live up to 30 years in the wild – that is, if they’re not gobbled up by a big fish.
Since clownfish live their lives sheltered within sea anemones, with whom they share a symbiotic relationship, they seldom get hunted by larger fish!
Let me briefly touch on how they live in a symbiotic relationship with anemones and how it extends their lifespan in the next segment.
How Can Clownfish Live For So Long?
Small bodies, a gawky swimming style, and a bright disposition – three features that make clownfish such an easy meal for just about any ‘big’ fish in the ocean. But how come they can live for over 2-3 decades?
This question had baffled marine scientists for a long, and now it looks like we finally have an answer!
Researchers from Italy and Germany teamed up to investigate the genetics behind a clownfish’s longevity.
They sequenced the genome and compared the sequences with other species. And what they found was that the secret of longevity lies in a clownfish’s mitochondria and lysosomes.
A clownfish’s body produces mucus that prevents it from being stung by the sea anemone’s tentacles. And thanks to this particular survival strategy, clownfish have a lower mortality rate than other species.
For this study, the researchers conducted a sequence of analyses of the genome of clownfish and damselfish. While the two species share similarities in many departments, only clownfish have a symbiotic relationship with sea anemones.
Anemones are responsible for providing shelter and food scraps to clownfish. In return, clownfish provide poop, consisting of nutrients necessary for anemones to thrive.
Clownfish are also noted for using their bright colors to lure fish into the anemone, where they are killed by the anemone’s poison and eaten.
Before I spill some tips and tricks to extend your clownfish’s lifespan, let’s tackle a few frequently asked questions along the way.
Maroon Clownfish Lifespan – How Long Can They Live?
In captivity, maroon clownfish live for 3-7 years on average. However, many specimens are also known to make it up to 17-20 years.
Related Article: Maroon Clownfish Care Guide: Everything You Need To Know
Clarkii Clownfish Lifespan – How Long Can They Live?
Clarkii clownfish are known to live for over 14 years in captivity. In the wild, the oldest living recorded clownfish was just about 13 years old.
Ocellaris Clownfish Lifespan – How Long Can They Live?
Ocellaris clownfish are known to live for 3-10 years in captivity on average. But gauging from what I read on the forums, many easily live past their tenth birthday if cared for properly.
Related Article: Ocellaris Clownfish Care Guide | Everything You Need To Know
How Long Did The Oldest Clownfish Live?
As you know, only about 5% of the Earth’s oceans have been explored and charted. Therefore, there’s no way of really knowing how long the oldest clownfish lived for – or any other fish for that matter.
However, according to a survey conducted in the public aquariums of Europe, the oldest clownfish were about 20 years old.
And despite the ripe age, they were still fully able to reproduce at regular intervals – which is a strong indication that they’re not nearing the end of their natural lifespan.
Can Clownfish Live For 20 Years?
Yes, most clownfish species can easily live for 20 years or more if properly cared for. The survey conducted in Europe’s public aquariums showed that the oldest clownfish were around 20 years old.
Is It Possible To Extend Your Clownfish’s Lifespan?
There’s no mumbo-jumbo or hard and fast rule to extend a clownfish’s lifespan. However, if your clownfish dies prematurely, the blame’s on you and your lousy husbandry practices.
The genetic makeup plays a decisive role in determining a clownfish’s lifespan.
And while you cannot change their genes, ensuring the fish has a suitable environment to live in, and a nutritious diet to snack on will definitely go a long way in ensuring your Nemo lives its life to the fullest and longest.
Maybe you’ll be the next in line on the XYZ fish forum to boast about your 30-year-old clownfish. Never say never!
How To Ensure Your Clownfish Lives A Long Life?
Now that you know it’s possible to keep these guys around for 30 years, I’m sure you’d be interested in exploring that possibility. Providing a big, clean tank, stable water temperatures, good company, and the right diet definitely help ensure clownfish live a long life.
Let’s look at some of these pointers one by one now!
Get A Big Tank
Clownfish don’t grow too big, I know. But they still require a sizable tank to lead a comfortable life. Unfortunately, I came across a good share of misinformation on the internet that perpetuates lies like they can thrive in tanks as small as 5 gallons. But that’s a far cry from the truth.
A single clownfish needs at least 20 gallons of tank space. And if you plan to also house anemones as well, you’ll need at least 50 gallons.
Getting a big tank in the first place will spare you from squandering on an upgrade later. And your clownfish will also certainly be thankful for it.
A small tank means the water parameters are volatile. Your fish thus becomes susceptible to abnormal and harmful ammonia spikes, stressing it profusely.
A small tank also translates to a lack of space and territorial aggression, eventually leading to stress.
And as it goes without saying, living in a constant state of anxiety and stress will compromise your fish’s health and lifespan.
Related: What’s The Ideal Clownfish Tank Size? 5, 10 Or 20 Gallons?
Get The Water Parameters Right
Here’s what ideal water parameters for clownfish look like:
- Temperature: 73-80 degrees F
- pH: 7.8-8.4
- Specific Gravity: 1.021-1.026 (29 to 35 PPT)
- Ammonia: 0 PPM
- Nitrate: 0.2 PPM
- Nitrite: 0.2 PPM
- Water Movement: Moderate
- Lighting: Moderate
Clownfish come from the Indo-Pacific region originally. Therefore, they are sensitive to cold water temperatures. They’re also intolerant of heavy metals in their home, such as chlorine.
Besides getting the water parameters right, you should also warrant that the water parameters remain stable at all times. This is because no fish likes sudden changes in their domain.
Do your share of homework and purchase conditioners, salt, and other maintenance products from good brands to ensure fish’s good health and longevity.
Related: What Water Temperature For Clownfish? What Happens If It’s Too Cold?
Keep Right Tankmates
Clownfish may be tiny, but they have big personalities. They are pretty territorial and don’t mind engaging in duels to ‘protect’ their part of the tank.
If you are new to the hobby, you should only aim to keep a single or a pair of clownfish. Honestly, raising a group would be a farfetched idea.
Also, if you plan to add other tankmates, you should first gauge whether their water and dietary needs overlap with a clownfish’s requirements or not.
Here’s a shortlist of suitable tankmates for clownfish:
- Dart fishes
- Marine invertebrates
You can also add anemones and corals. However, if your fish seems stressed by it, remove them immediately.
Next, let’s look at a few diseases that stunt a clownfish’s lifespan.
Diseases In Clownfish
- Fin rot
- White spots
- Swim bladder disease
- Hole-in-the-head disease
Fin rot often occurs due to infections caused by a wound from injury or poor water parameters.
You’ll notice the fins have a frail appearance and a reddish color. In some advanced cases, the fins will look totally shriveled.
The infected clownfish will appear reclusive, lose appetite, and become increasingly sedentary.
If you suspect your fish has contracted fin rot disease, you need to isolate it immediately and start an anti-bacterial medication on a vet’s recommendation.
Like their freshwater counterparts, clownfish are also prone to contracting ich. And this time, ich is caused by a parasite known as Cryptocaryon irritans.
As the moniker gives away, the disease manifests as tiny white spots on the fish’s gills, fins, tail, and body.
Other accompanying signs are increased mucus production, cloudy eyes, ragged fins, and pale gills.
You’ll need to resort to copper treatment to treat ich.
A copper treatment dose of 0.15-0.24 mg/liters will be enough in most stances, but I’d recommend strictly adhering to the manufacturer’s guidelines.
Here’s a detailed article covering the best treatment options for marine ich on clownfish.
White Spots On Clownfish! Copper-Free Treatment?
Swim Bladder Disease
Swim bladder disease could be caused due to bloating, an abnormality, or an injury. It can also occur as a symptom of another secondary illness.
Your fish’s abdominal region will look bloated, and the fish will have trouble swimming. It will either float to the top, sink to the bottom, or swim erratically – everything happens involuntarily.
Fasting and feeding a fibrous diet like peas can help relieve the condition if it’s caused due to digestive problems. However, if it’s due to injury or an abnormality, you’ll need to seek professional help.
Although it’s not as widespread as some other diseases listed above, clownfish are still susceptible to hole-in-the-head disease, also known as lateral line erosion.
This disorder directly attacks the lateral line or the vibration-sensing part of the fish. You will then soon see a couple of pinhole-sized spots in the head.
And as the disease advances, the skin will erode.
The disease is caused by the hexamitid parasites, which in turn are triggered by foul water parameters, poor diet, and stress.
Frequently Asked Questions
Before we end this article, I’ll answer a couple of the most frequently asked questions on clownfish. If you already know the answer, skip ahead!
Clownfish Size – How Big Do They Grow?
Here’s a table showing the average size of different clownfish species.
|Clownfish Species||Average Size|
|Ocellaris Clownfish||4.3 Inches|
|Percula Clownfish||3 Inches|
|Maroon Clownfish||7 Inches|
|Clarkii Clownfish||4-5 Inches|
|Tomato Clownfish||5 Inches|
Clownfish Diet – What Do They Eat?
In the enchanting oceans, clownfish snack on small invertebrates, nibble on algae and scavenge for food scraps left behind by the anemones.
In the tank, you can give them good-quality pellets for a staple diet and occasionally treat them with live or frozen invertebrates like mysis and brine shrimp.
As omnivore fish, clownfish accept both plant-based and meaty foods. Therefore, it’s up to you to shape its dietary regime.
Clownfish Price – How Much Do They Cost?
The average starting price for a standard clownfish can range anywhere between $15-45. However, if it’s a rare or a designer breed, it will easily cost you over $100.
A clownfish’s price is often determined by size, color, and the appearance of its stripes.
Can You Keep More Than 2 Clownfish?
There’s no rule barring you from keeping 2 clownfish in the tank. However, doing so does come with a few caveats.
If you keep any more than 2 clownfish in the tank, sooner or later, a pair will form, and they will pick on the singletons.
Is It Cruel To Keep Clownfish?
One simply cannot emulate an oceanic environment for their fish in a small tank. However, if you provide ‘enough’ space, feed them a good diet, and maintain their habitat regularly, I don’t really think it’s cruel to keep clownfish.
But if you confine them in a small tank under poor circumstances, it’s not just cruel but barbarous!
Final Words: Clownfish Lifespan
Clownfish enjoy a pretty long lifespan. If the environment is favorable, they can live as long as 30 years. However, under poor care in captivity, they usually survive for 3 to 4 years.
Many hobbyists on numerous forums have reported that their clownfish has lived past 10 years and 20 years. So yes, it’s possible with the right care.
In the wild too, clownfish are known to live comparatively longer despite their petite size, awkward swimming style, and bright appearance because of their symbiotic relationship with anemones. Anemones shelter clownfish from potential predators with their dangling nodes.
Are Clownfish Aggressive? Will They Bite Your Finger?
How Often To Feed Clownfish? Risks Of Underfeeding!