Clown Fish: Nemo Roadtest

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Breed: Clown Fish

Temperament: usually peaceful community fish
from $40 a pair
Tank Setup:
from $2000
over 10 years
Recommended for:
very experienced aquarists

The recent Disney film ‘Nemo’ is set to start a craze for these cute little fish as pets. However, although they may look cute, they are very expensive and tricky to look after.

Clown Fish

Clown fish are so called because of the way they swim in a ‘bobbing’ fashion rather than smoothly through the water. There are about 27 species of Clown fish, each with different colours and markings. However some species appear so similar that it is difficult to distinguish between them. The fish are seen in tropical marine waters from Japan, throughout South-east Asia and south to Australia. In Australia, they are evident from the north western coast of Western Australia and the Northern Territory to Queensland. Not all species are evident in all areas.

Interestingly, all Clown fish start life as males. As they grow, the most dominant one in a social group will transform and become a female. The next dominant fish will become the breeding male.

Clown fish have a symbiotic relationship with sea anemones. The Clown fish spends its life around-and-within the tentacles of the anemone, seeking protection from predators amongst the tentacles. The anemone, in turn, is cleaned and fed by the Clown fish. The Clown fish is immune from the sting produced by the anemone. This immunity is apparently derived from the coating of mucus which covers its body. It is believed that the Clown fish’s mucus is spread onto the anemone’s tentacles, and the mucus from the tentacles is spread over the fish. It isn’t clearly understood exactly how the mechanism works.


Clowns are communal fish however can become territorial. Poor compatibility can occur amongst females of the same species and with certain other species. This tendency is exacerbated if there are two Clown species and only one suitable anemone in the aquarium.

Tank Setup

Clown fish are more challenging than the average fish to look after. The smaller the tank, the less amount of water, the quicker it pollutes and the more frequent the water changes required. A proper and efficient set up will cost $2000 minimum. This includes tank, lights, two-stage filters, hydrometer, substrate, live rock, food, anemones and Clown fish. Cheaper options are available but are not really appropriate for these fish and their host anemones.

Interestingly, anemones are not sedentary animals. They will walk around the tank depending on currents and lighting. This means that it may be hidden behind a rock or otherwise obscured. The fish could likewise be obscured.


Although Clown fish will breed freely in an appropriate tank setup, it is raising the ‘fry’, or babies, which requires specialised care in a separate tank.


Clown fish require no special foods other than a variety of good quality fish foods. This type of fish is a messy eater. It will eat its food amongst the anemone’s tentacles, spilling food into the anemone and feeding it at the same time. A particularly good specimen will take food to the anemone, feed it, then feed itself.

Captive-bred Vs wild-caught fish

There are a few companies which now specialise in captive bred Clown fish. It is claimed that these captive bred fish will have a greater chance of surviving during packaging and shipment. The fish are already acclimatised to aquarium life, are accustomed to frozen and artificial diets and may be less demanding of the high water quality. One definite advantage of captive bred fish is that it reduces the impact on wild stock. Their removal from the wild, if done excessively, can directly impact on the environment, reducing breeding stocks.

Ideal owner

Not recommended for children under 14 years of age. Anyone thinking of keeping Clown fish should really start with fresh water fish and gain experience first. If you want a fish that swims around a lot – don’t get Clowns as they will never stray far from their anemone or another adopted tank ornament. Although one of the hardier marine fishes, they still require extreme diligence and a lucrative bank balance for set up and maintenance.

Further information

We filmed this segment in Noosaville with Paul Bubeer, proprietor of ‘Fishy Business’ Aquariums (07) 5474 4705, and in Sydney with Caevan Sachinwalla, President of the Marine Aquarium Society of Australia. For more information on Clown fish, log onto the Society’s web page at;