False Clown Anemone Fish

Common Clownfish


False clown anemonefish generally live in groups, with just one dominant male and female—the largest pair—producing offspring. They reside in the tentacles of sea anemones for food and protection, and rarely move far away from their host.

Anemones sting most other fish, and these are the only ones known to live snuggled into their tentacles. To gain immunity to the lethal sting, the anemonefish excrete a protective layer of mucus over their skin that combines with the anemone’s mucus, and allows the fish to remain unharmed. As part of this symbiotic relationship, the fish feeds upon parasites and debris among the tentacles and in return scares away predators, such as the butterfly fish. The fish’s activity in the water also helps aerate its anemone host, particularly at night.


Anemonefish feed upon zooplankton and phytoplankton, or tiny animals and tiny plants (like bits of algae). As the current flows past, the fish are able to swallow the food whole.


Anemonefish are protandrous hermaphrodites, which means they start out life as males and can change into females. Once a group's largest female dies, the largest male changes into a female to take her place. This sex change is irreversible.

Breeding may occur year-round, after which females release between 100 and 1,000 eggs onto a piece of coral or rock. Four to five days later, the young anemonefish hatch and spend about two weeks floating in the open water before settling on a reef to find a host anemone.

Population Status and Threats

The population of the false clown anemonefish is stable, but they are one of the most popular fish in the pet trade. Due to their attractive colors, over-collection of these animals could eventually pose a problem for the species. The greatest threat to the fish remains global climate change, which impacts their habitat and behavior.

WCS Conservation Efforts

WCS works to safeguard priority seascapes, which include various coral reefs where false clown anemonefish make their homes. Coral reefs contain some of the most diverse life on the planet, including tropical fish, marine turtles, and sharks. As a result, their stability is essential to the balance of marine ecosystems. WCS works with coastal communities across the Western Indian Ocean and Coral Triangle to understand how various coral reef sites respond to human activities, fisheries management measures, and the effects of climate change.