Spotted! Juvenile Emperor Angelfish

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The coral nursery at Gili Lankanfushi has become a haven for all kinds of juvenile marine creatures over the years. We have seen everything ranging from the tiniest polka dotted box fish, to the cutest little butterflyfish as well as some baby moray eels. Our latest finding whilst doing a routine monitoring dive on the nursery is a juvenile emperor angelfish!

While human parents are keen to find similarities in their offspring (e.g. mum’s eyes and dad’s smile), it’s not as helpful for reef fish babies to resemble their parents. This is because reef fish of similar colours, shapes and patterns are seen as direct competitors when it comes to food, territory and reproductive opportunities. Male emperor angelfish are extremely territorial and won’t tolerate another male entering their territory and will often show aggression. Having a completely different appearance to the adults reduces the chance of being banished as they are not seen as a threat. Has “stranger danger” become ‘the stranger the better’?

Over time, the circular pattern will begin to fade while the striped pattern and additional colours begin to emerge. The individual pictured above can actually be considered a sub-adult since the yellow patterning is beginning to emerge, whereas true juveniles are black with white and electric blue circular patterns. They begin to morph into their adult form once they reach a size of 8-12 cm and it takes 24 to 30 months to fully change colour.

Rickard Zerpe via Wikimedia Commons

Have you seen a juvenile emperor angelfish before? Since many fish are territorial and like to hang around the same spots, there is a large chance that you will be able to find them again. It is worth asking our resident marine biologists or dive centre team on the island if they have seen any unique creatures lately. They might be able to show you and make your day!