Ocellaris Clownfish Care Guide | Everything You Need To Know

Mar 2, 2022

Ocellaris Clownfish Care Guide

Also known as false percula, or more lovingly as Nemo, ocellaris clownfish are undoubtedly the most popular and easily recognizable fish globally, thanks to Disney’s hit Finding Nemo. 

Do you know when Finding Nemo was first released in 2003, the annual sales of clownfish (especially ocellaris clownfish on whom the character Nemo was based) rose by 40%?

In this blog, I will tell you all there’s to know about these adorable little fish – all about their needs and quirks – from creating a suitable habitat to birthing and raising hundreds of young Nemos. 

So, let’s begin! 

Ocellaris Clownfish At A Glance 

NameOcellaris Clownfish
Other NamesNemo, False Percula Clownfish
Scientific NameAmphiprion ocellaris 
FamilyPomacentridae
OriginIndo-Pacific Region
Lifespan10-20 Years
Diet Omnivore
TemperamentSemi-aggressive
Breeding Egg-layer
Temperature 74.0 to 82.0° F (23.3 to 27.8° C)
pH7.8-8.4
Specific Gravity1.023-1.025
Carbonate Hardness8-12 dKH
Tank Size 20 Gallons 

Ocellaris Clownfish Habitat In Nature

Ocellaris clownfish were first described by Cuvier in 1830. These fish are found in the Indo-West Pacific region, including the Indian ocean, Malaysia, Australia, Singapore, and Thailand. They’re also widely seen in the Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan, and the Ryukyu Islands.

In the wild, ocellaris clownfish inhabit shallow lagoons, turbid bays, and coastal reefs. They are also native to outer reef faces and reef flats. 

Note that these fish live in shallower waters with depths between 3.3 to 49 feet (1 to 15m).

What’s interesting is that these fish seldom stray more than 1 foot (30 cm) from their protective home, aka anemones. 

Ocellaris Clownfish Price: How Much Do They Cost?

Standard ocellaris clownfish retails for anywhere between $15-20. At Petco, they cost $17.99. 

Naturally, designer ocellaris clownfish are priced much higher. For instance, black ice snowflake clownfish retails for around $100.

Ocellaris Clownfish Lifespan 

Under proper care, ocellaris clownfish can easily live for 20 years and more. However, their average lifespan in captivity is relatively short owing to inappropriate raising style. 

It’s not at all uncommon for fish to die within 3-6 years under poor conditions. 

In the wild, ocellaris are easy targets for big fish like tunas and barracudas. These fish are small, colorful, and not very good at swimming. 

Despite these shortcomings, they still live for 20 years or more because of their special symbiotic relationship with anemones. 

We’ll discuss more on that later. 

Related: Clownfish Lifespan | How Old Is The Oldest Clownfish?

Ocellaris Clownfish Appearance 

There are more than 30 species of clownfish.

But 9 out of 10 times, when someone is referring to a clownfish, they’re talking about ocellaris. 

Thanks to Pixar’s Finding Nemo, these fish are the poster child of what clownfish should look like. And let me tell you, they don’t disappoint at all. 

Ocellaris clownfish are deep-bodied, medium-sized clownfish from the Percula complex. These fish have a stout, oval body and a rounded tail fin that impedes them from being prolific swimmers. 

There’s a beautiful dip right in the middle of the dorsal fin, which makes it look like they have double dorsal fins. 

These fish come in various shades of orange – ranging from bright yellow to tangerine. And the body is adorned with 3 iconic stripes they’re famed for. 

The first stripe is at the head just behind the eye, the second one runs across the middle body vertically with a forward projecting bulge, and the last one is at the base of the tail fin. 

These white stripes and the pectoral fins, dorsal fin, tail fin, and pelvic fin are lined with thin black lines. 

Some varieties don’t sport black edging around the white stripes but still have it around the fins.

There’s another mystical natural variation of ocellaris fish that are only found in the vicinity of Darwin, Australia. These fish are entirely black with the same 3 vertical white stripes. 

They look nothing short of stunning! 

Ocellaris clownfish are often confused for their close cousins, percula clownfish. They may look similar at first glance, but a few subtleties help differentiate them. 

Ocellaris clownfish have 11 spines on their dorsal fin, while perculas have only 10. 

Likewise, the former has thin black margins outlining the white stripes, whereas the latter has prominent black outlines. 

Ocellaris Clownfish Size 

Ocellaris clownfish grow up to 3.5 inches (8.99 cm) on average. Females are usually slightly bigger than their male counterparts. 

These fish are slightly larger than their close cousins, perculas, the smallest in the clownfish family. 

There is a popular myth in the hobby that any fish grows to the size of their aquarium. This is an entirely baseless claim with no scientific backing. 

However, what’s true is that a small tank can stunt your fish’s development and prevent it from reaching its full size potential. 

How? Let me brief you. 

A small tank means a lack of enough swimming space. And lack of swimming space means not enough exercise. As a result, the fish becomes prone to conditions like muscle atrophy. 

Second, small tanks are temperamental and prone to pollution. This will significantly amplify the chances of your fish contracting deadly diseases. 

And lastly, small tanks mean small space. And it doesn’t sit well with these territorial fish. So they became agitated and stressed. And stressed fish isn’t healthy, you know that, right?

Ocellaris Clownfish Designer Variations 

Ocellaris clownfish have been bred in captivity for some time now. Therefore, several designer strains are highly sought after and consequently expensive compared to standard ocellaris clownfish. 

Let’s have a look at a few of them:

Snowflake Clownfish 

Snowflake clownfish are orange and have white bars that are intensely irregular and broad. None of the bars connect with each other. The more white in the body, the more expensive the fish is.

Premium Snowflake Clownfish 

As the name gives away, premium snowflakes come with a premium price tag. The first two lines run together and are broader – covering more of the fish with white. 

Some specimens are whiter than others. So I guess it’s only a matter of time before we get a ‘platinum’ ocellaris, just like with perculas. 

Black Ice Snowflake Clownfish

This is a highly sought-after variant. The fins are jet black with hints of orange in areas the fins connect with the body. 

The head and the mid-body stripe run together with a broad black edging. However, orange is still present in each section. 

Black Snowflake Clownfish 

It is a cross between a snowflake clownfish and a black ocellaris clownfish. The fish has black and white uneven bars that don’t connect. 

Naked Ocellaris Clownfish 

The fish has a full orange body like a goldfish with no white marks or black edgings. 

Midnight Ocellaris Clownfish 

Except for the orange face, the entire body is black or brown. 

Caramel Ocellaris Clownfish 

As the name suggests, these fish are caramel brown with three white stripes. In addition, the black edges on the fins are comparatively thicker.

Misbar Ocellaris Clownfish 

These fish sport one or more bars that are not developed fully – covering just a quarter of the depth of the body or even just a small bar of white. 

Extreme Misbar Black Ocellaris Clownfish 

These fish have one big white bar at the head. The last two white stripes are pretty short and look more like a dash than a stripe. 

Domino Ocellaris Clownfish 

In my opinion, dominos are the most unique-looking ocellaris available in the trade. They have one large white dot on the gill cover. 

Ocellaris Clownfish Male VS Female

male and female ocellaris clownfish
Credit: Nick Hobgood (CC License)

Females are significantly bigger than males. Besides this, they look pretty much identical. 

Related: Can Clownfish Change Gender? How Many Times?

Ocellaris Clownfish VS Percula Clownfish 

Ocellaris ClownfishPercula Clownfish
The dorsal fin consists of 11 spines, but sometimes, it has only 10 spines.The dorsal fin consists of 10 spines, but sometimes, it has just 9 spines. 
The white stripes are outlined with thin pitch black lines.The white stripes are outlined with thick pitch black lines.
They’re native to Southeast Asia and Northern Australia.They’re native to Solomon Islands and New Guinea. 
They’re more docile and passive compared to percula clownfish.They’re a bit more aggressive and hostile compared to ocellaris clownfish. 

Ocellaris Clownfish Behavior And Temperament 

Ocellaris clownfish are often labeled as ‘semi-aggressive’ fish, but little does one know that they’re the most peaceful among 30+ clownfish species. Their aggression is mostly only palpable during spawning season. 

These fish have far more subdued personalities than species like tomato and pink skunk clownfish. They’re also more well-mannered than their cousins, percula clownfish. 

Like any fish, they do get grouchy if there’s not enough space in the tank. This is even more true for a wild-caught specimen destined to live the rest of its life in confinement after tasting what freedom is like in big blue oceans. 

One amusing fact about these fish is that they have a somewhat clownfish swimming style. I wonder if that’s the reason they’re christened clownfish. 

They don’t flap their pectoral fins to swim agilely as most fish do. Instead, they row their fins – resulting in an almost gawky swimming pattern. But I find it super adorable. 

Ocellaris share a symbiotic relationship with anemones. And due to their inborn vulnerabilities like awkward swimming style, bright color, and petite figure, these fish stick very close to their host anemone. As a result, you will seldom see them stray away from the anemone, even in the tank. 

Despite their friendship with anemones, these fish still prefer living in schools. In a tank, they’d thrive as a pair as long as they bond. 

If you keep a mated pair and a sexually immature male in the tank, the duo will make life pretty hard for the poor fellow. They will bully him until he bites the dust.

However, note that they don’t necessarily get lonely or bored if kept alone. 

In the wild, ocellaris clownfish live in small groups where the biggest fish is always the female. Then, the second biggest fish is the breeding male. And rest of the members of the group are sexually immature males.

The breeding pair will share their dear anemone with up to 4 non-breeding males. 

But if they sense anyone from the non-breeding community is growing big fast, the pair will make sure to chase it away from the anemone. 

As primitive as these fish may look to us, they have a very complex size-based hierarchy in the group. The biggest is always a female, the second biggest is always the male, and the non-breeders get smaller as the pecking order descends. 

The female usually has an assertive and agonistic personality, whereas males are more like appeasers.

It may seem absurd, but these fish strictly adhere to their size-based hierarchy to ensure that subordinates don’t cut the line or pose any threat to the reigning female and her consort. 

What’s super interesting is that scientists have recently discovered an average difference of about 10 mm between the size of these fish. 

As fun as it would be to watch their antics, if you have a moderately-sized tank, the best way forward is to keep just one pair at first. Then, once you get comfortable and have mustered enough experience and confidence, you can always add some more fish. 

One particular research led by marine scientists revealed that if you add two clownfish in the tank, they will fight until one of them emerges as a winner. 

The winner will then naturally transform into a female. The testes will get absorbed and dissolved, whereas the ovaries start growing. 

Related: Are Clownfish Aggressive? Will They Bite Your Finger?

Best Tank Mates For Ocellaris Clownfish

Since ocellaris clownfish are well-mannered and subdued, you have to pick their tankmates carefully. You obviously cannot keep them with aggressive fish. 

The rule goes something like this: if the tank is smaller than 55 gallons and there’s no anemone present in the tank, don’t add any semi-aggressive or aggressive tank mates in your ocellaris clownfish tank. 

However, if there’s anemone present in the tank, your ocellaris clownfish can hold their ground against semi-aggressive fish – and sometimes, even aggressive fish as long as they’re not big enough to gulp down your clowns whole. 

Suitable Tankmates For Ocellaris Clownfish 

  • Puffers 
  • Dottybacks 
  • Dartfish 
  • Blennies
  • Mandarin dragonet 
  • Angelfish
  • Gobies
  • Tangs
  • Flame hawkfish
  • Dwarf angels 
  • Basslets 
  • Chromis damselfish 
  • Butterflyfish 
  • Red Coris Wrasse
  • Hermit crabs 
  • Blood red fire shrimp

Tankmates To Avoid For Ocellaris Fish 

  • Pink skunk clownfish 
  • Red and black anemonefish 
  • Clark’s anemonefish 
  • Maroon clownfish
  • Tomato clownfish

Ocellaris Clownfish And Anemone Tank Setup

Here’s a list of suitable anemones for your ocellaris fish:

  • Merten’s Carpet anemone (Stichodactyla mertensii)
  • Magnificent Sea anemone, Ritteri anemone (Heteractis magnifica)
  • Giant Carpet anemone (Stichodactyla gigantea)
  • Bubble-tip anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor)

Don’t forget to research before adding any anemone into your ocellaris tank. For instance, some like Condy anemone (Condylactis gigantea) are pretty mobile and have an intense carnivore instinct. 

Their sting is far too powerful than what your ocellaris clownfish can tolerate. 

Ocellaris clownfish would indeed have a tough time surviving in the wild if they didn’t have a symbiotic relationship with anemones. However, this isn’t the case in the tank. 

You don’t necessarily have to add anemones to your clownfish tank. 

If you want to, you’re most welcome. Your fish will be grateful. But just know that it’s not something indispensable in captivity. 

When kept alongside anemone, ocellaris clownfish are known to only venture around 12 inches away from their host. 

So, it’s not a problem to add multiple anemone-clownfish pairs in the same tank as long as you can maintain a distance of at least 2 feet between them. 

If you plan to create a clownfish and anemone setup, you should do so with the anemone’s needs in mind. Clownfish are super low-maintenance creatures compared to anemones. 

For instance, clownfish don’t need any particular kind of lighting – just about any light will do. On the other hand, anemones demand intense lights – you’d need to install metal halides or T5s. 

Although taking care of anemones is tricky, it’s not as difficult as it may sound right now. If you have dabbled in the saltwater aquarium hobby before, you can raise them alongside ocellaris clownfish without any hassle. 

Every time I feed my tank’s inhabitants, my clownfish makes sure to grab some extra food and offer it to the anemone. 

And my crab often snatches it away from the anemone. When that happens, I put in some extra flakes once more so the fish can offer it to its host. 

Can Ocellaris Clownfish Live In Reef Tanks?

Yes, definitely. As a matter of fact, a reef tank is what they need – this is the setup that mimics their natural surroundings the best. 

Don’t worry. Ocellaris clownfish aren’t known to nip or destroy corals. Instead, they’ll gently scrape and eat the algae growing on them. It’s a win-win situation for all parties involved. 

Hobbyists shared on forums that some ocellaris clownfish reportedly adopted hairy mushroom coral and large polyp stony coral as their host in the absence of anemones. 

Ocellaris Clownfish Diet 

Ocellaris clownfish are omnivores with a pretty decent appetite. Therefore, there’s a variety of food they’ll readily chomp down without much fuss. From pellets and flakes to frozen shrimps and live larvae, they can have it all. 

However, if your fish is a wild-caught specimen, it will naturally try to avoid processed food like flakes and pellets initially. 

And I wouldn’t blame them. Their diet in the wild is much richer than what we can possibly provide. In the ocean, they graze on algae to their fill, snack on isopods, zooplankton, planktonic fish eggs, fish larvae, polychaete worms, and a lot more small invertebrates. 

However, keep at it, and they’ll slowly get used to processed food. 

You must handpick some pellets and flake brands carefully to incorporate them into your pet fish’s staple diet routine. Make sure the brand you choose doesn’t use low-quality filler ingredients. 

But pellets and flakes are not all that they need. Instead, these fish thrive on a well-rounded diet with a good portion of frozen and live treats.

I often give the clownfish earthworms that I pick from the garden for live food. I make sure to rinse them thoroughly and get rid of any dirt present. 

Initially, my fish used to freak out when I added earthworms into their tanks, but now they love it and look forward to it often (Yes, I can tell).

I did try my hands at culturing mysis and brine shrimp myself. But it felt like such a chore. I’m better off buying them from the local pet stores. 

I sometimes give copepods and amphipods too. My fish love it. 

Okay, I think I’ve chewed enough fat today. My apologies if I got carried away. 

Here’s a list of food you can give your ocellaris clownfish:

  • Flakes 
  • Pellets 
  • Spirulina 
  • Finely chopped mussels 
  • Finely chopped fish 
  • Mysis shrimp 
  • Brine shrimp 
  • Algae wafers 
  • Blanched veggies 
  • Earthworms 
  • Blackworms
  • Mosquito larvae 
  • Copepods 
  • Amphipods 
  • Squid
  • Seaweed

I’ll leave the link below for the flakes that I give my clownfish. 

And by the way, these fish are big-time algae eaters in the wild. As a matter of fact, they play a very crucial role in restoring and conserving coral reefs by scraping and eating algae off them. 

Actually, the point I am trying to make here is that algae must make up a good chunk of their diet in captivity as it does in the wild. 

Here’s a link to Zoo Med’s Spirulina Food Flakes that has some pretty rave reviews online:

Adult ocellaris fish should be given 2 moderate-sized meals a day. But juveniles should be fed up to 4-5 times throughout the day. 

When young, they’re pretty prone to malnourishment and starvation. Therefore, you’d want to pay extra attention during this period. 

My vet friend Ravi suggested that I break my mbuna cichlids’ 2 big meals into 3-4 small meals to manage their resource-related aggression. 

If convenient, you can go this route too. But you do you. You know what’s best for your fish. 

Related: How Often To Feed Clownfish? Risks Of Underfeeding!

Water Parameters For Ocellaris Clownfish 

Temperature 74.0 to 82.0° F (23.3 to 27.8° C)
pH7.8-8.4
Specific Gravity1.023-1.025
Carbonate Hardness8-12 dKH
Water FlowModerate
Tank Size 20 Gallons 
Tank RegionAll
Ammonia 0 PPM
Nitrite 0 PPM
NitrateBelow 20 PPM

Related: What Water Temperature For Clownfish? What Happens If It’s Too Cold?

Tank Maintenance For Ocellaris Clownfish 

As long as you stick to the basics, ocellaris clownfish aren’t demanding about their water parameters. However, as hardy as they are, they’re also incredibly prone to illness when exposed to less-than-ideal environments.

Since they are used to warm waters of the tropics, you should invest in a reliable heater that ensures stable temperatures ranging between 74.0 to 82.0° F (23.3 to 27.8° C) at all times.

A poorly-made heater won’t just fluctuate temperatures and die on you randomly but can also potentially electrocute you or your fish. 

As evident from the table above, you can see these fish need alkaline water. 

To maintain water’s alkalinity, in addition to adding calcium carbonate-based substrate, you can fill a mesh bag with crushed coral or dolomite gravel and place it in the filter. 

The specific gravity should be maintained between 1.023-1.025, and carbonate hardness should range between 8-12 dKH.

The key to making sure the water is safe and hospitable for your ocellaris is performing regular water changes. 

While there are no black-and-white rules or techniques you can apply to perform water changes, the rule of thumb goes something like this:

  • For tanks up to 40 gallons, perform a 15% water change biweekly
  • For tanks sized 40-90 gallons, perform 20-30% water change monthly 
  • For tanks sized 100 gallons or larger, perform 20-30% water change every 6 weeks 

Keep in mind that this is just a loose guideline. At the end of the day, the frequency and extent of water change you’ll perform depends on the stocking number and the tank’s filtration system. 

If you pay no heed to perform water changes, ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and other equally vicious compounds brewing in your tank will slowly but steadily suffocate your clownfish. 

Hailing from water bodies that are incredibly pristine and stable, these fish don’t fare well at all in polluted environments. 

If ammonia levels rise in the water, your clownfish will suffocate, its bodily functions will shut down, and the fish will die a painful death. 

Similarly, if there’s excess nitrate buildup in the tank, the fish will show signs like rapid gill movement, lethargy, erratic swimming pattern, and lack of appetite. 

Water changes are indispensable. You should never skip them. 

However, do you know overdoing it can be equally dangerous? If you perform more frequent water changes than needed, the good bacteria colony will be swiped away, and the purpose of performing water change in the first place will be defeated. 

We recommend testing the water parameters every week to keep everything in stellar condition. And to do so, we suggest using the API Saltwater Master Kit that tests 4 important parameters like high pH range, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. 

It’s a shame to admit, but I only learned a few months ago that liquid-based tests like these from API are more reliable than strip tests. Do you know anything about it? 

Minimum Recommended Tank Size For Ocellaris Clownfish

The minimum recommended tank size for ocellaris clownfish is 10 gallons. But if you were to follow my recommendation, I’d strongly suggest getting a 20-gallon tank as the bare minimum requirement. 

And if you want to keep multiple clownfish or an anemone as well, you should at least aim for a 55-gallon tank. But as I always say, if possible, go for the bigger tank. 

There’s a popular myth that smaller tanks are easier to maintain than big ones. But this claim is farthest from the truth. 

Not only are the parameters volatile, but the tank is also highly susceptible to have harmful chemicals like ammonia and nitrite brewing more often and in higher concentrations. 

Therefore, smaller tanks are way dicier than bigger tanks to maintain. They’ll constantly keep you on your toes. 

And let’s not forget – ocellaris clownfish are pretty territorial. 

They’re not downright mean and hostile like pink skunk clownfish or tomato clownfish, but they do show animosity and experience stress if they feel they’re being intruded. 

Studies have shown that more than 1 million clownfish are caught in the wild every year. 

So, there’s every chance that the Nemo you brought home used to live in an ocean previously. And it would really be cruel to confine a fish coming from such environments to a 10-gallon tank, don’t you think?

And it’s not just about the moral compass. A small tank can directly or indirectly stunt your fish’s growth and shorten its lifespan. 

For instance, the fish will be more prone to contracting muscle atrophy and parasitic infection. Why and how? You connect the dots now. 

Related Articles! 

What’s The Ideal Clownfish Tank Size? 5, 10, Or 20 Gallons?

5-Gallon Clownfish Tank? Is It Even Possible?

Substrate And Decor For Ocellaris Clownfish 

Ocellaris clownfish aren’t good swimmers. They don’t flap their pectoral fins like most fish do when swimming. Instead, they row the fins – resulting in a cute but gawky swimming style. 

Therefore, when setting up the tank, you need to ensure that the fish is well protected from the water current. But that doesn’t mean you have to compromise on aesthetics. 

Aquascaping is a beautiful creative outlet to translate our personalities and moods through an aquarium. 

So, leave no stone unturned when designing the right aquarium setup for your clownfish. 

As any clownfish, these fish thrive the best in reef tanks but can easily be kept in a fish-only setup as well. 

Since these fish need alkaline water, you need to choose a calcium carbonate-based substrate. You can use crushed coral, dolomite gravel, or aragonite sand for the base. 

My preferred choice is aragonite sand. It ticks all the right boxes, in my opinion. 

Since it contains millions of marine bacteria, it helps with the tank’s biological filtration. And it’s easy to siphon too. 

I always stick to Carib Sea’s Special Grade Reef Sand. It delivers functionality and a fantastic aesthetic appeal at the same time. 

Here’s the link if you are interested:

For decors, you should give driftwood a miss. As beautiful as they’d look in a marine tank, they’re known to make the water acidic. 

But if you really want to add one, you can always buy synthetic, aquarium-safe driftwood. 

For rocks, you have 2 options: live rocks and base rocks. 

Live rocks are cultured and are brimming with good bacteria. However, the downside is that some unwanted hitchhikers (parasites) will tag along too. 

If you choose base rocks, you don’t have to worry about unwelcome pathogens at all. But there will be no good bacteria either. 

The choice is yours. I actually have both kinds of rocks in my tanks. 

If there’s an anemone in the tank, your ocellaris clownfish will not usually stray away from it. It will stick close to its hosts and seldom explore uncharted territories in the tank. 

But still, you should aim to achieve the right balance between an open swimming area and enough hiding spots. You can do so by carefully planning the tank’s layout using rocks, caves, and reef inserts. 

Here are a couple of tips for the next time you aquascape:

Always leave enough space between the glass and the decors for an algae scraper to slide by on all sides of the tank.

Ensure the rocks and decors are firmly pressed into the sand, so they’re touching the tank’s base. This will prevent inhabitants that dig to get crushed or tumbled. 

Don’t place the decors too tightly. This will ensure enough water flow to keep debris from settling. 

Don’t put egg crates under the rocks to protect the glass. It will prevent sand sifting critters and snails from eating detritus off the sand. 

Leave space above for coral growth, so they don’t branch outwards too much as you trim the tops. 

Recommended Equipment For Ocellaris Clownfish 

As always, we combed through dozens and dozens of reviews to find durable yet affordable products to go inside your tank. 

The saltwater aquarium hobby is quite costly. Therefore, we meticulously searched and reviewed several products to come up with two choices. 

Both these products are built well and offer excellent value for money. We hope you like them. 

Fluval External Filter 

What We Love About It:

  • Built with patented Aquastop valve 
  • Sound-dampening impeller design ensures quiet operation 
  • 3-year warranty 
  • Multi-stage filtration for effective filtration 
  • Instant prime for an instant start-up without the need for manual siphoning 

Eheim Jager Aquarium Thermostat Heater 

What We Love About It:

  • Automatically turns off it water level dips too low 
  • Built with shatter-proof and shock-resistant glass 
  • Precise temperature regulation 
  • Made in Germany
  • Comes with a mounting bracket and suction cups for flexible placement

Breeding Ocellaris Clownfish 

Credit: B. Osborne369 (CC License)

Breeding ocellaris clownfish does not require herculean effort. But it’s not a piece of cake either. When the film Finding Nemo was first released, the demand for these fish grew so rapidly that it steeply dwindled their population in the wild. Luckily, scientists figured out how to get them to reproduce in a captive setting, and here we are.

There are a few things you should consider when breeding clownfish, like choosing a pair, setting the right temperature and environment, conditioning them to breed, and caring for the eggs and fry. 

Below, I will tell you step-by-step everything from A to Z on breeding ocellaris clownfish. I bet it will be a long one, but I’ll make sure you know absolutely everything you need to know on the subject. 

Choosing Your Ocellaris Clownfish Pair 

As you already know, the largest fish is always the female, and the second largest fish is the breeding male. Once a pair is formed, they stick with each other for years to come. 

Now, there are several ways of choosing your ocellaris clownfish. All these methods come with a unique set of pros and cons. Let’s explore them.

Buying A Juvenile Pair 

You can choose to buy two juveniles and keep them in the same tank. The obvious benefit here is that it will cost you less. Even designer clownfish are available at a low price when they’re young. 

But the caveat here is that you’ll need to wait for at least the next two years for your fish to mature. Males mature pretty fast and are ready to fertilize the eggs at 6 months of age, but females take their sweet time – at least a couple of years. 

Buy A Small Male And A Big Female 

This is the most commonly traveled route – buying a small male and a much larger female. You can even buy ‘proven’ fish that have laid eggs or fertilized them before. 

However, there’s no guarantee that the male you bought will be accepted by the female. If she doesn’t like his presence in the tank, she won’t mind bullying the poor fellow to death. 

Buy A Bonded Pair 

If you purchase a bonded pair, it’s only a matter of time before they start breeding. They will get on it as soon as the right tank conditions are met. 

But still, there’s one slight hiccup. You can’t tell for sure if the pair is genuinely bonded or not by watching a 30-second clip or taking someone’s word for it. 

As far as pricing goes, this choice is obviously more expensive than those mentioned above two. 

Buy A Breeding Pair 

If you are bent over backward to breed clownfish, the most reliable choice, although expensive, is to buy a breeding pair. 

When you get a breeding pair, you can be assured the pair is bonded and have some breeding experience. In addition, if the previous owner has raised any fry, you can even see what their offspring look like. 

However, the clear-cut disadvantage here is that it might cost you an arm and a leg. Wild breeding pairs will cost you at least a couple of hundred dollars, whereas designer breeding pairs like Picasso clownfish retail for as much as $1000. 

Irrespective of whatever method you choose, it’s vital to first add male into the tank.

I know few hobbyists even use a breeding box to introduce the two fish gradually. 

There’s always a good chance the female will not accept the male and torment him instead. Therefore, you should add a few hiding places like an 11/2″ PVC pipe or some rockwork with small caves. 

Watch their antics closely. Sometimes, they’ll bond right away. Other times, it may take weeks and months. And unfortunately, it’s also possible that they’ll never pair at all. 

In that case, you’d want to try your luck with another pair. 

Set Up The Breeding Tank 

Once the pair is bonded, it’s not uncommon for clownfish to spawn in the community tank. However, if you’re serious about breeding clownfish, I’d strongly recommend setting up an exclusive breeding tank. 

It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. A 10- or 20-gallon would do. Once the pair decide upon the breeding site, they will hardly leave the spot. Therefore, they don’t need a big tank in the first place. 

Just make sure the tank is equipped with a proper heating and filtration mechanism and is fully cycled. You’ll also need to add clay pots and tiles so that they can lay eggs there, and you can later pick the tile/clay pot and move it to the fry tank. 

There’s no need to add the rocks, anemones, and corals. 

Conditioning The Pair To Breed 

You cannot do much if the pair doesn’t bond naturally. However, if they bond, there are a few tricks that you can pull to encourage them to breed fast. 

First, you need to feed them a protein-rich diet a couple of times a day. Giving one big meal once a day will not compensate or work. 

Instead, aim to feed at least 4 times a day. I know it’s not convenient for many to be home all day and prepare a 4-course gourmet meal for their fish. 

But try to be a little creative with your schedule. 

Offer them a variety of dry, frozen, and live food. 

Second, raise the temperature gradually over a couple of days. Remember, you can’t do it suddenly or by a wider margin. It will backfire. 

I usually maintain the temperature at around 83 degrees F in the breeding tank. 

And lastly, perform regular water changes. It just won’t help keep ammonia and nitrites in check, but it also encourages fish to breed for some reason. 

Courtship And Mating Ritual 

When the female is gravid, you’ll know. She will look swollen and distended. After all, she’s housing at least a couple of hundred eggs inside her body. 

If the bulge isn’t noticeable, try observing the fish from a top view. 

The ovipositor in both female and male will descend and look prominent. However, sometimes, it’s not apparent until the very last day of breeding. 

A female’s ovipositor is broad and blunt, whereas a male’s is pointed. 

The male is entrusted with finding a suitable mating spot and cleaning it spotless. This is why you must add tiles and pots in the first place. 

Male clownfish will painstakingly clean the chosen spot – removing any trace of debris, substrate, or algae from it. 

But that’s not all. 

He also has to put on quite a show to woo the female. – from performing headstands to flaunting caudal, anal, and dorsal fins.

Clownfish usually breed at night. When the big day finally comes, the female will drag her ovipositor over the surface in a zigzag style and lay up to 1,000 eggs. The male will follow the cue and fertilize the eggs shortly. 

The eggs are sticky and will adhere to the pots or tile firmly. 

They will hatch in the next 6-7 days. Meanwhile, you should prepare the fry tank. 

Related: What Do Clownfish Eggs Look Like? Sushi Roe? Picture Guide

Preparing The Fry Tank

You could let the fry hatch in the breeding tank. But it comes with a few risks. The larvae may get killed immediately by powerheads or pulled into the filtration system. 

So, you have to be present when the eggs hatch to turn off the filters, and that’s a whole other story. 

But if you want to transfer the fry only after they hatch, here’s an ingenious device that helps you do so effortlessly. I recently came across it and immediately added it to my cart. 

Here’s a short video showing how it’s done. 

Getting clownfish eggs to hatch and go through the metamorphosis is the hardest part of breeding clownfish. Therefore, setting up a proper fry tank is essential. 

Cycle and equip a clean 10-gallon tank and paint all sides. You can also use construction paper or cardboard. 

As for equipment, you’ll need a 100-watt heater, a thermometer, a sponge filter, an air stone, and an LED hood. 

I cover the tank’s top with a reflective wrap or cardboard to adjust the amount of light. And I recommend you do the same too. 

Once your fry tank is all set and cycled, swiftly remove the clay pot or tile and place it in the new tank. Don’t overthink this step.

Ideally, this step should be carried out on the day they’re supposed to hatch. And keep in mind that you can’t suddenly change the lighting schedule at the last minute.

After you place the eggs in the new tank, set up the air bubbler to run over the eggs. You can’t save all eggs, but you should try to get as many eggs as possible to move. 

The final step – turn off the tank’s and the room’s lights and wait until the following day. 

Next day, don’t go barging into the room and turn on all the lights. You can quite literally scare the fry to death. Instead, you should check the tank with a very dim flashlight, and if everything went right, you should see hundreds of tiny larvae swimming in all directions. 

Caring For Fry 

When first hatched, all fry come equipped with a nutrient-dense yolk sac that supplies essential nutrients in the first few days. 

But you’ll need to fortify their diet quickly. Day 3 to 5 is known to have the highest mortality rate as they’re highly prone to starvation at this formative stage. 

Tint the tank green with liquid algae and add rotifers into it.

Tinting the tank also helps ensure that less light will spread around the entire tank. 

You can give your ocellaris fry brine shrimp and pulverized flake food from the fifth day onwards. 

You will be blessed with a high survival rate as long as the larvae are well-fed and the water conditions are right. Still, the tricky part is yet to come. 

Metamorphosis usually occurs after 10 days of hatching. And getting your tiny fry to get past this stage is the most challenging part of breeding clownfish. 

And since metamorphosis occurs on the 10th day, you should perform a proper water change and ensure cleanliness by the 8th or 9th day. 

On the 20th day of hatching, the fry are big enough to be moved into the grow-out tank. There’s no brassbound rule when setting up a grow-out tank. Just stick to the basics, and it should turn out fine.

Ocellaris Clownfish Diseases 

As long as you maintain healthy water parameters and ensure a stress-free environment for your ocellaris clownfish, the fish will not contract any disease and will enjoy its entire lifespan. 

However, once the fish’s environment gets polluted or it experiences stress, its immunity will be compromised. As a result, it will be prone to contracting a plethora of health conditions. 

The most common clownfish diseases are:

  • Brooklynella 
  • Marine Ich 
  • Uroema Marinum 
  • Marine Velvet 
  • Swim Bladder Disease 

I’ll quickly touch on these diseases before we end this article. Let’s begin! 

Brooklynella 

Unfortunately, brooklynella is so common in clownfish that it’s been termed ‘clownfish disease’ these days. To put it simply, brooklynella is the infestation on marine fish by a ciliated protozoan called Brooklynella hostilis. 

This disease is deadly because it directly impacts the fish’s gill and inhibits breathing as mucus clogs the gills. As the disease advances, a thick whitish mucus will cover its entire body – starting from the head. 

The parasite behind brooklynella can multiply and grow way faster than those that cause marine ich and marine velvet. That’s why it can kill the fish within a few days of infestation. 

The general consensus is that formaldehyde is the most effective medication against this baneful disease. 

Marine Ich 

Marine ich is caused by a ciliated protozoan parasite called Cryptocaryon irritans and manifests as tiny salt grains dotted across the fish’s body. 

This fish has a particularly complex lifestyle. Therefore, the treatment is trickier and longer. It feeds on the fish’s body fluids and cells – often resulting in the fish’s death. 

Besides the white dots, some other accompanying signs of marine ich are twitching, labored breathing, flashing, and scratching. 

Copper-based treatments are known to be effective against this parasite. However, copper usage is deadly for corals and invertebrates. 

I have covered both copper-based and copper-less treatments to cure marine ich in this article below. Please have a look if you’re interested. 

Related: White Spots On Clownfish! Copper-Free Treatment?

Marine Velvet 

Marine velvet boasts a significantly higher mortality rate than the aforementioned two diseases. This is because it’s caused by a parasite called Amyloodinium ocellatum, whose life cycle is long and complex. 

Therefore, it’s challenging to eliminate the parasite completely. 

Even worse, your fish may succumb to death without showing any signs at all. 

Clownfish’s gill is the most common site of infection. Therefore, the fish will display signs like labored breathing and scraping, which results in excess mucus production in the gills. 

As the disease progresses, you can see the development of golden-colored, velvet-like film – thus, the moniker. 

In later stages, mucus production increases, fish becomes restless, loses its appetite, and most likely contracts another secondary disease. 

Freshwater dip and copper-based treatments work the best to treat this fatal disease. 

Swim Bladder Disease 

As the moniker suggests, swim bladder disorder is a health condition characterized by the malfunctioning swim bladder due to disease, injury, abnormality, and environmental factors. 

Fish suffering from swim bladder disease swim erratically, float to the top, or sink to the bottom involuntarily. 

Depending on the cause, the disease can be benign or dangerous. If the swim bladder is bloated and inflamed due to digestive issues, fasting the fish and breaking the fast after a couple of days with fibrous food like pea can help relieve the condition. 

On the other hand, if it’s caused due to an injury or abnormality, you will need to seek professional help. Trying to restore balance by tying a stone or any other object on the fish’s body can lead to grim consequences. 

As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Waiting till the end and starting treatment in the nick of time will do more harm than good. 

Although the diseases mentioned above are common, they can be entirely prevented by maintaining the correct parameters and proper diet. 

Final Words: Ocellaris Clownfish Care 

Time and again, ocellaris clownfish are subjected to small round tanks with no filtration or heating mechanism in place. 

What’s even unfortunate is that they’re wild-caught specimens used to the endless, gleaming waters of the ocean – and all of a sudden, confined in a tiny tank with nowhere to escape. 

As responsible fishkeepers, the least we can do is provide a suitable environment for them to live the rest of their lives happily – and mind you, they live pretty long. 

I have incorporated absolutely everything I know about these fish in this care guide. I know it’s pretty long, but I hope this guide comes in handy for you. 

Related Articles! 

Maroon Clownfish Care Guide: Everything You Need To Know 

Percula Clownfish Care Guide | Everything You Need To Know 

rohit gurung author at urbanfishkeeping

About Rohit Gurung

My never-ending love and fascination with Aquascaping started when I received a red-eared turtle for my 10th birthday.

Apart from researching and writing, I spend hours gazing at my 3 turtles. And yeah, I bask alongside them too.