SeaFocus - scuba diving reviews, images and information


Underwater photography: images of clownfish taken while scuba diving
True clownfish | False clownfish | Skunk anemonefish | Spinecheek anemonefish | White-bonnet anemonefish
Class: Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes) Order: Perciformes Family: Pomacentridae - Damselfishes Subfamily: Amphiprioninae

All clownfish and anemonefish belong to the damselfish family but are in the subfamily Amphiprioninae. There are thirty species, all of which are are in the genus Amphiprion, except the lone member of genus Premnas – also known as the tomato clown or spinecheek anemonfish.

Although divers tend to call them all clownfish, the proper name for these beautiful fish is actually anemonefish. A few do rightfully hold the title of 'clown' but most earned it as a nickname based on their markings and waddling gait. Found in most of the world’s oceans, the highest numbers are concentrated around the Indo-Pacific region – there are 10 in Papua New Guinea but none in the Caribbean. The Seychelles and Maldives have their own indigenous species.

No matter what sea they are in, all anemonefish live in a close symbiotic relationship with their host anemone. As they have no inbuilt defence mechanism they live permanently amongst the stinging tentacles and develop a tolerance to varying in sting qualities by darting in and out of a new host until they become immune.

Anemonefish also have that delightful characteristic of being able to change sex. As juveniles mature they turn into little lads. There’ll be a gang of them all hanging around the Queen Mother and her consort – the oldest male in the group. As long as these two senior members are around, that’s the way things stay. The babes remain ‘sub-adults' until one of the adults dies and then the next one in the chain moves into the vacant slot. And if that means changing sex, no problem, they just get on with it.

In 2009, the IUCN released a list
of the ten species most likely to be
threatened by global warming.
Clownfish are named on
this list due to habitat loss,
coral reef degradation,
increasing ocean acidification
and warming oceans.

Anemonefish and clownfish image gallery...

click any image to enlarge
Int. = intermediate stage
Juv.= juvenile

These species are regarded as threatened.
Clownfish encounters
Puerto Galera, Philippines
Dead Palm
Amphiprion ocellaris
False clownfish

Rarely over 12 centimetres long, all clown and anemonefish are colourful with some form of decorative body markings. The way to distinguish which is which is to study those patterns. However, picking a true clownfish is much harder as there are both true and false clownfish.

The true clownfish has three white bars with the middle bar having a forward-projecting bulge. These bars have black margins which can be very thick (see image 2 in the gallery). They also have 10 (rarely 9) dorsal spines.

The false clownfish also has three white bars, with the middle bar having a forward-projecting bulge. However, the black margins are minimal or non-existant (see right). The false clownfish has 11 (rarely 10) dorsal spines.

SPECIES NAMES | Many fish can be hard to identify as they are so similar. Common names vary and even scientists disagree on what is what. If you can name anything we can't, please get in touch.

ORDER | Images on this page are available to buy as prints. Take a note of the name then go to the
order form...

SEARCH SeaFocus | Looking for something on this site? Type in a few words below...