King Angelfish

King Angelfish, Holacanthus passer

The King Angelfish, Holacanthus passer, whose common Spanish name is ángel real, is a species in the Angelfish or Pomacanthidae Family, known collectively as ángeles in Mexico. Globally, there are eleven species in the genus Holocanthus, five of which are found in Mexican waters, three in the Atlantic and two in the Pacific.

The King Angelfish have deep compressed rectangular shaped bodies and vary significantly in color. The adult King Angelfish have a dark blue gray coloration with one narrow vertical white band behind the gill covers, yellow-orange caudal and pectoral fins, and transparent pelvic fins. They also have a distinguishing orange spot at the corner of the mouth. In stark contrast the juveniles are multicolored, with a series of stunningly colored vertical stripes, which follow this pattern (starting at the head): yellow, blue (narrow), brown (through the eye), blue (narrow), orange (broad), white, then five dark brown stripes separated by narrow blue lines and a narrow blue line circling the entire body. These fish have a small mouth with brush-like teeth; their gill covers have a long spine attached. They also feature a single continuous dorsal fin with 14 spines and 16 to 18 rays. Their anal and dorsal fins end in filaments and their caudal fins are straight. Their bodies are covered with rough scales.

The King Angelfish reside over and within rocky and coral reefs where they are fairly common at depths up to 260 feet. Juveniles are frequently found in coastal tidal pools. Adults reach a maximum length of 36 cm (14.2 inches) and feed primarily on plankton and sponges. They are a poorly studied species and as such very limited information is available about their behavioral patterns.

In Mexican waters the King Angelfish are found in all waters of the Pacific with the exception that they are absent from the northern portions of the Sea of Cortez and from along the northwest coast of Baja.

The King Angelfish are an easy fish to identify due to their unique coloration and are therefore difficult to confuse with other species, noting that they are somewhat similar to juvenile Cortez Angelfish, Pomacanthus zonipectus.

The King Angelfish are of interest to scuba divers, being fairly abundant in certain parts of the Sea of Cortez. They are of no interest to recreational anglers.  When caught, they are only retained by subsistence fishermen, thus are typically considered a “catch and release.”

King Angelfish, Holacanthus passer. Fish provided by the commercial fishermen of the greater Los Cabos area, Baja California Sur, June 2009. Length: 25 cm (9.8 inches).

King Angelfish, Holacanthus passer. Close up of the mouth with forward extensions of the lachrymal bone which is most likely utilized to scrape algae off of rocks.

KIng Angelfish

King Angelfish, Holacanthus passer. An interesting head shield that is very similar to the one found on the Queen Angelfish, Holocanthus ciliarus, of the Atlantic.