Damselfish

Last updated: May 1, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© IanRedding/Shutterstock.com

Many species of damselfish are known for their territorial and aggressive nature!


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Damselfish Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Actinopterygii
Order
Perciformes
Family
Pomacentridae

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Damselfish Conservation Status


Damselfish Facts

Name Of Young
Fry
Group Behavior
  • shoal
Fun Fact
Many species of damselfish are known for their territorial and aggressive nature!
Biggest Threat
Habitat loss
Other Name(s)
Damsel, demoiselle
Incubation Period
4-5 days
Predators
Sharks, large bony fish
Diet
Omnivore
Lifestyle
  • Diurnal
Slogan
Damselfish belong to the family Pomacentridae
Group
Shoal

Damselfish Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Yellow
  • Red
  • Blue
  • Black
  • White
  • Orange
Skin Type
Scales
Age of Sexual Maturity
2-3 years
Venomous
No
Aggression
High

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Damselfish Summary

Damselfish are any of approximately 420 species within the family Pomacentridae. They mainly inhabit the tropical and temperate waters of the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans. Despite being territorial, their flashy colors and patterns make them popular aquarium pets. In addition to this, they are incredibly hardy fish that can endure a range of conditions. Many species grow no larger than two or three inches, though the largest measure up to 15 inches in length.

Four stripe damselfish in an aquarium

The four-striped damselfish is an example of this family’s bold colors and patterns.

©Vojce/Shutterstock.com

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5 Damselfish Facts

  • Brightly colored: Fish in this family are renowned for their playful array of colors and patterns, which makes them popular aquarium pets.
  • Territorial: Some species within this family are aggressive and territorial, making them unsuitable for cohabitation with certain other types of aquarium fish. Clownfish, a type of damsel, typically make good companions for other species within Pomacentridae given enough space and time to adjust.
  • Filial cannibals: Like many other types of fish, some species of damsels are filial cannibals, meaning they eat their own young. One example is the male cortez damselfish (Stegastes rectifraenum). Scientists discovered that males of this species at up to almost 30% of received clutches in a study.
  • They use sea anemones as shelter: Damsels sometimes take refuge from predators among sea anemones, which deter most fish.
  • Either one or two sets of nostrils: Although most species of damsels have only one nostril on each side of their heads, a few species have two.

Damselfish Classification and Scientific Name

Damselfish, or damsels, are marine fish belonging to the family Pomacentridae. They are also known as demoiselles. Within this family, they belong to the subfamilies Pomacentrinae, Chrominae, Glyphisodontinae, and Microspathodontinae. These subfamilies subdivide into about 29 genera. Damsels also fall within the order Perciformes (perch-like fishes) and the class Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes).

Damselfish Species

Sapphire devil, Blue Devil Damselfish  (Chrysiptera cyanea).

The blue devil damselfish is one of about 420 species within the family Pomacentridae.

©Podolnaya Elena/Shutterstock.com



There are approximately 420 species of damsels. These species include the following common examples:

  • Sergeant major (Abudefduf saxatilis)
  • Blue devil (Chrysiptera cyanea)
  • Azure demoiselle (Chrysiptera hemicyanea)
  • Talbot’s damsel (Chrysiptera talboti)
  • Black-and-white damselfish (Dascyllus aruanus)
  • Cloudy damsel (Dascyllus carneus)
  • Domino damsel (Dascyllus trimaculatus)
  • Beau gregory (Eupomacentrus leucostictus)
  • Garibaldi (Hypsypops rubicundus)
  • Goldbelly damsel (Pomacentrus auriventris)

Damselfish Appearance

juvenile blue-fin damselfish (also known as canary damselfish) defends its territory on reef wall

Damsels come in a variety of colors including red, orange, yellow, blue, black, and white.

©valda butterworth/Shutterstock.com

Damselfish are known for their bright colors and vivacious, if sometimes aggressive, temperaments. They come in a range of colors and patterns including combinations of red, orange, yellow, blue, black, and white. In addition to this, they have deep, compressed bodies with two anal spines and a forked tail. Most species have a single set of nostrils, though some species have two nostrils on each side of their heads.

These fish vary somewhat in size. The smallest species, like Springer’s damselfish, only grow to lengths of about two inches as adults. One of the largest species, the garibaldi, grows up to 15 inches (1.25 feet) in length. Another large species, the giant damselfish, rivals the garibaldi in size. However, most species do not exceed lengths of four to six inches.

Damselfish Distribution, Population, and Habitat

Most damselfish species live in marine waters. However, a few species inhabit either brackish or freshwater environments. They typically remain in and around coral reefs at depths of up to 655 feet. They range throughout tropical, subtropical, and temperate waters in the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific Oceans.

The IUCN does not include most damselfish species on its Red List of Threatened Species. However, some species like the black damselfish (Neoglyphidodon melas) and the goldtail demoiselle (Chrysiptera parasema) are listed as Least Concern despite decreasing in number.

Azure Damselfish (Chrysiptera hemicyanea) on a reef tank

Most damselfish species inhabit marine waters. However, a few species can survive in brackish or fresh water.

©Joan Carles Juarez/Shutterstock.com

Damselfish Evolution and History

The oldest pomacentrid (damselfish) fossil currently on record dates back to the lower Middle Eocene Epoch (approximately 55.8 to 33.9 million years ago). Scientists discovered this fossil of the species Palaeopomacentrus orphae in Monte Bolca, Northern Italy. This is the first pomacentrid fossil scientists have confirmed from the Eocene. Other pomacentrid fossils date from the later Miocene Epoch (approximately 23.03 to 5.33 million years ago). These include Chromis savomini from Algeria and Izuus nakamurai from Japan.

Pomacentrids diversified greatly during the transition between the Eocene and Oligocene Epochs. Their body sizes have evolved independently at least 40 times throughout their history. The family divided over time into four subfamilies of which Pomacentrinae is the largest and most diverse.

Damselfish Predators and Prey

Damsels are carnivorous, omnivorous, or herbivorous depending on the species. However, most are omnivorous, consuming both plant and animal matter. They also have a number of predators. As primarily diurnal fish, they hunt during the day and take shelter from predators at night.

Speckled damselfish in Bohol sea Philippines

The majority of damsels are omnivores, feeding on small crustaceans, plankton, and algae.

©orlandin/Shutterstock.com

What Do Damselfish Eat?

Depending on the species, fish within this family eat a variety of plant and animal matter. Their diet includes small crustaceans like shrimp and copepods, plankton, and algae.

What Eats Damselfish?

Potential predators include sharks and large bony fishes like groupers and snappers. Adult damselfish often engage in filial cannibalism, consuming the eggs of their young. Damsels occasionally use sea anemones as shelter from predators.

Damselfish Reproduction and Lifespan

pair of atlantic damselfish prepare to mate

After mating, male damsels guard the eggs from predators.

©valda butterworth/Shutterstock.com

During spawning, female damsels do not necessarily choose males based on their size. In some species, they choose males based on the rate of egg survivorship. They also choose mates based on the quality of their signal jump. This male courtship ritual involves ascending in the water column and then quickly swimming downward while making a pulsed sound. Sexually mature males potentially perform this ritual hundreds of times a day. Additionally, they bear the responsibility for building nests.

Female damsels lay demersal elliptical eggs, which the males then guard until they hatch in approximately four to five days. Females may spawn multiple times every month with males potentially guarding more than one clutch at a time. After hatching, the larvae drift away and feed on plankton and phytoplankton until they mature sexually. This usually occurs by two to three years of age. A damselfish’s typical lifespan ranges from five to 15 years.

Damselfish in Fishing and Cooking

Humans do not typically fish for or eat damsels, although they are edible. Rather, these colorful fish make hardy, if occasionally aggressive, aquarium pets. The blue devil (Chrysiptera cyanea) is one of the most popular damselfish species in the United States.

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About the Author

Kathryn Dueck is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on wildlife, dogs, and geography. Kathryn holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Biblical and Theological Studies, which she earned in 2023. In addition to volunteering at an animal shelter, Kathryn has worked for several months as a trainee dog groomer. A resident of Manitoba, Canada, Kathryn loves playing with her dog, writing fiction, and hiking.

Damselfish FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Where are damselfish found?

These fish inhabit mostly tropical waters throughout the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans. They live in and around coral reefs.

Are damselfish endangered?

Most species within this family are not endangered. However, the IUCN includes a few species like the black damselfish and the goldtail demoiselle on its Red List with a designation of Least Concern.

Can you keep damselfish as pets?

These fish are among the hardiest aquarium fish and make good pets. However, they can be aggressive at times.

Are damselfish aggressive?

Some species of damselfish can be aggressive and territorial, especially in an aquarium environment.

Can damselfish live with clownfish?

Clownfish generally make good companions for other damselfish species in an aquarium environment.

Can damselfish live with sea anemones?

Damselfish occasionally take shelter with sea anemones, which protect them from predators.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
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  2. Eschmeyer's Catalog of Fishes, Available here: https://researcharchive.calacademy.org/research/ichthyology/catalog/SpeciesByFamily.asp#Pomacentridae
  3. Zoological Journal, Available here: https://academic.oup.com/zoolinnean/article/117/2/159/2684260?login=false
  4. Plos One, Available here: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0258889
  5. JSTOR, Available here: https://www.jstor.org/stable/2409171
  6. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, Available here: https://pubs.aip.org/asa/jasa/article/101/6/3783/480478/Propagation-of-damselfish-Pomacentridae-courtship
  7. Bulletin of Marine Science, Available here: https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/umrsmas/bullmar/1995/00000057/00000003/art00012
  8. ScienceDirect, Available here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/damselfish
  9. PubMed, Available here: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34590316/#:~:text=The%20mutualistic%20relationships%20between%20anemonefish,)%20and%20cardinalfish%20(Apogonidae).
  10. Damselfish - Britannica, Available here: https://www.britannica.com/animal/damselfish
  11. Fishkeeping World, Available here: https://www.fishkeepingworld.com/damselfish/
  12. Animal-World, Available here: https://animal-world.com/encyclo/marine/damsels/damsels.php

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