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Known for their outstanding patterns and colors, the angelfish lives mainly in shallow seas. In most cases they are small, measuring up to 8 inches in length, but some reach a length of 2 feet. In the past, the name angelfish has been used commonly for three different types of fish. One, known as the monkey fish is a relative of the shark while the other two are bony fish. Of these two one lives in fresh water areas. The fresh water angelfish is a favorite of aquarists who tend to use its scientific name, scalare, to avoid confusion. There is still some confusion concerning the third of what is called angelfish, but is actually a butterfly fish. The marine angelfish and the butterfly fish can only be distinguished by the spine on each gill cover of the angelfish.
Marine angelfish and the related butterfly fish number more than 150 in species. They live mostly in shallow seas and some estuaries in pairs or small groups. Both can usually be found around reefs, rocks or coral formations. In most of these fish even the young will bear the same brilliant colors, while in others the difference is so great that one might think they are not of the same species. Angel fish tend to be solitary creatures that frequent the same territory day after day. They are always near a shelter into which they can dart when disturbed. In an aquarium the adults will be aggressive towards each other but when there are no other angelfish in the aquarium they become tame and will even eat from your hand. The most beautiful of the angelfish is the rock beauty which is colored jet black in front with yellow on its hind quarters and fins that are yellow with red spots. This is an extremely curious fish that will draw near any under water swimmer.
Since angelfish have small mouths armed with numerous tiny teeth they feed on small invertebrates which they can crush. Some species have slightly elongated snouts that is inserted into cracks or crevices to capture tiny animals for food. Although very little is known about the breeding habits of marine angelfish, it is believed that they probably conform to the patterns of their better known relatives. In this species both the male and female will clean a patch of flat rock, where the female lays her eggs. The male swims over her and sheds his sperm for fertilization. Both parent will tend the eggs for 4 to 8 days when the young hatch and sink to the bottom. Working together the parents guard the young until they can swim well enough to hide in cracks or crevices when predators approach. Unlike the parents, the young angelfish have bodies that are long and slim. After three to four months the young reach adulthood and can take care of themselves.
With all the known species of angelfish there is one that escaped attention despite its coloring. The pygmy angelfish has a bright orange head with a glowing dark blue body. This fish was totally unknown until 1908 when one was brought up from a depth of 540 feet. In 1951 it was finally given a scientific name when it was discovered that it was an angelfish. As recent as 1958, this fish that was thought to be so rare, was caught in numbers by a skin diver off the Bahamas in 40 feet of water. in 1959 it was given the colloquial name of cherubfish.