Seeing Red: The Colorful, Cantankerous Maroon Clownfish

Maroon, or Spinecheek, Clownfish (Premnas biaculeatus)

Maroon, or Spinecheek, Clownfish (Premnas biaculeatus)

Many of the clownfishes have a well-deserved reputation for feistiness. But there’s one clown that makes all the others seem like milquetoasts by comparison—the maroon clownfish (Premnas biaculeatus) from the Indo-West Pacific. Though it’s among the hardier and more strikingly colored clownfish species, P. biaculeatus definitely takes aggression to new heights, making tankmate compatibility the biggest issue in keeping this species successfully.

One of a kind

Of the 30 different clownfish species, 29 belong to the genus Amphiprion. The maroon clown gets the genus Premnas all to itself. It’s differentiated from all the Amphiprion clowns by the sharp spines on its gill covers, which give rise to another common name for this species—the spinecheek clownfish.

Physical traits

In addition to the aforementioned cheek spines, P. biaculeatus is red overall with three white to grayish vertical bands on its body—one just behind the head, one at mid-body, and another on the caudal peduncle (base of the tail). There’s also a variant with yellow bands, usually sold as the goldstriped maroon clownfish. P. biaculeatus exhibits marked sexual dimorphism, with females being significantly larger than males. Full-grown females can reach upwards of 6 inches, while males may achieve only about one-third of that size.

Feeding

The maroon clownfish will readily accept all manner of standard aquarium fare, including fresh, frozen, and dry items—mysids, chopped seafoods, frozen formulations, flakes, pellets, etc. Being omnivorous, this species should be offered a variety of both meaty and algae-based foods, and twice-daily feedings are recommended.

Housing

Minimum housing for a maroon clownfish is a tank in the ballpark of 30 gallons. However, if you want to keep one of these clowns with a variety of other fish, they would need to be sizeable and bold enough to stand up to the clown, so a much larger tank would be necessary in that case.

Tankmates

Pair of P. biaculeatus in a Bubble Tip Anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor)

Pair of P. biaculeatus in a Bubble Tip Anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor)

Generally speaking, smaller or similar-sized fishy tankmates are not an option for this hyper-aggressive clown. Bigger, more assertive species, such as larger wrasses, tangs, angels, triggers, etc., should be able to hold their own though.

Other clowns and conspecifics should also be avoided with the possible exception of mated pairs. If you want to try keeping a pair, it’s a good idea to provide either a tank divider or some other sort of retreat with an opening just large enough to admit the male while excluding the much-larger female. That way, the male can escape the female’s bullying if it becomes unrelenting.

Is an anemone necessary?

In nature, P. biaculeatus associates with Entacmaea quadricolor, the bubble-tip anemone. This species tends to do fairly well in captivity as anemones go, so setting up a tank that spotlights this symbiosis would certainly be an option. However, an anemone host is not necessary for keeping this or any other clownfish successfully in captivity.

Photo credit: Nick Hobgood, Jan Messersmith

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About Jeff Kurtz

Jeff Kurtz is the Co-founder/Editor of Saltwater Smarts, former Senior Consulting Editor for Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine, and the aquarist formerly known as “The Salt Creep.” He has been an aquarium hobbyist for over 30 years and is an avid scuba diver.

Comments

  1. Mike Johnson says:

    I got a captive bred Maroon when it was around six weeks old. It wasn’t as big as my fingernail. That was eight years ago. About a year ago it killed it’s buddy and tank mate, a large Raccoon Butterfly. I would swear it moped around after that missing her buddy. She just can’t help how mean she is. She will stare you down through the glass wanting to fight. She took a chunk out of my wife’s finger and she bled like a stuck pig. This was after my wife was playing fetch with it by dropping a small Kenyan Tree in it’s den. The Maroon would pick it up and move it to the other side of the tank., then come up to the glass and give her a dirty look, over and over. She will keep her den, which she shares with a Coral Banded Shrimp, spotlessly clean and can even grab medium size rocks with her mouth and move them. I hate getting rid of a fish I’ve had for almost nine years, but on the other hand she might be big enough to filet now. Just think twice before getting one unless you want a species specific tank. When they host an anemone they get 10 times meaner!

    • Chris Aldrich says:

      Ah yes, the Maroon Clown Death Stare. It strikes fear in the hearts of many!

    • Jeff Kurtz says:

      Sounds like you’ve got a really feisty one there, Mike! Your suggestion that it’s best to keep maroon clowns in a species-specific tank is probably good advice.

    • I have an interesting pair.
      I have a pair of tank bred “Maitai” clowns.
      The parents were a Female Oscillaris bred with Male Maroon. An absolutely beautiful fish, dark maroon on the upper body and bright orange on the belly with white stripes. The clowns were bred here in the Orlando area. They are quite interesting in that they aren’t particularly “mean” they are quite territorial, and they hosted in my toadstool leather for about a year till I got them a nem… They instantly took to the nem, and won’t leave it. They feed it instinctively which amazed me as they were tank bred.
      I know a bunch of folks whom have/had these hybrids, and each fish has/had their own distinct personality. My female has now grown to about 3 inches long and is about 3/4 inch thick.
      Amazing fish.

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