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A Personifer, a Clownfish and their Carpet Anemones

By Leonard Ho - Posted Jul 05, 2012 08:00 AM member 'zumaboy' tells one of the craziest fish stories we've read about the unlikely friendship between a Personifer Angelfish, a Madagascar Clownfish, and the Carpet Anemones they call home.
A Personifer, a Clownfish and their Carpet Anemones

The odd couple "personalified"

This unedited story was written by 'zumaboy' for, shared with permission from


This story began 14 weeks ago when on a dive trip I collected 3 Madagascars (A. latifasciatus) for two collectors of rare clownfish.

The same day that the Madagascars arrived, my friends at iBluewater received several shipments of marine life that included three Personifer Angelfish, a Clarion Angelfish, and a Red Faced Sunburst skunk clown.

I made a request to my friends there to have the Red Faced Sunburst skunk and one of the three Personifers placed in the same quarantine tank as the single Madagascar. They were to be quarantined in a bare-bottomed 40 gal tank. A circular plastic mesh was provided as hiding place for the skunk clown, just in case the much bigger Madagascar decided to be less than sociable to the skunk.

The 6" Personifer would have no problems holding its own. In general, fish introduced at the same time have little issues getting along; but experience tells me to be watchful for anything out of the ordinary.

Once the fish acclimated, I proceeded with our 8 week quarantine protocol - treating the trio for both internal and external parasites. I have been fortunate in having great success with this quarantine process. Quarantine, in my estimation, should be proactive and not reactive. I believe it is always smart to ask the store you are buying from for their quarantine protocol. That way, you at least get to know whether the fish is truly being treated and quarantined proactively, or simply being set aside to pass the time in some solitary tank.

My experience has been that 8 weeks has proven to be the ideal quarantine period. If a fish had been collected with the use of toxic chemicals such as cyanide, symptoms generally begin to show up at about the 2 to 3 week period. Ceteris paribus, the actual medication process of the quarantine protocol should be completed by the 21st day. The 5 additional weeks is to bring the fish to optimum condition and to be certain they are disease free.

I have been told of claims floating around the internet about fish having been quarantined for 4 months, or 6 months, and so on. Intelligent folks on the web have suggested that these extensive periods could be because (i) the fish was very sick and needed all that extra time to be nursed back to health, and if so, its immune system may be damaged or compromised by extended medication or, (ii) the seller did not have any buyers and had to hold on to that fish for those extended months; which could mean that specimen has not been given optimum attention because of its " leftover" status.

The first week was incident free for the two Clownfish. The skunk avoided the Madagascar, taking refuge in the floating mesh tubing. All three are eating well and getting along. The skunk spends most of its day weaving in and out of his mesh tube and chasing down food. All three are voracious eaters, a good indicator that the fish have acclimating well to captive life, and that their general health is good. Stressed or sick fish generally refuse food.


A week into quarantine, I observed an unusual "friendship" developing between the Madagascar and the Pesonifer. The Personifier trails the Madagascar as if pairing with it, despite the angelfish's larger size. When the lights go off the two roost together. Odd, by way of reason, I recall a documentary shown a while back on Animal Planet or perhaps National Geographic, where a lioness in the African wild nursed and cared for a wildebeest, normally it's natural prey. Sometimes nature just surprises us.

3 weeks into quarantine, with the trio in excellent health and gaining weight, I made the decision to introduce them to two anemones which were being quarantined in another tank. Two S. haddonis of rare color morphs have been in quarantine for a month. A Peach Frosted Haddoni, and an Ultra Red Haddoni. Each exceeding 10 inches. The anemones were plastic-bagged separately and introduced to the trio's tank, after acclimating them.

The Red Faced skunk was the first to make a move; made its choice for the Peach Frosted haddoni and dived right in. 3 days later the Madagascar decided it was time for him to take the plunge. It went for the Peach haddoni too. The two shared the anemone peacefully until Sam the Personifer decided it wanted to share the anemone with the Madagascar. Out of sync and not seeming to be in nature's plan, it started into the Peach haddoni - tail first, just like a Clownfish would in an initial "test" run. Sam continued this behavior over the next 10 days each time exposing more of fin and flesh to the potent stinging tentacles of the haddoni. In several of those "test runs" he would peck at the column and base of the anemone. Perhaps satisfied that he had convinced the haddoni that it was in fact a Clownfish. I observed this rare angelfish gently edge the anemone's tentacles with its mouth, starting at the periphery of the anemone and swimming towards its center to the mouth.


Sam the Personifer was obviously not sent the memo that Stichodactyla haddoni (Greek origin; sticho meaning row or line, dactyla meaning fingers/digits. Stichodactyla haddoni generally means rows of sticky fingers) is notorious for eating fish, sometimes including Clownfish. This behavior of brushing against an anemone's tentacles is common to Clownfish perhaps to trigger the process of building an immunity slime coat against the anemone's potent stings. Substrate and rocks were eventually added when the two anemones was added to the tank.

On the 11th day Sam again started to peck at the anemone base and gradually moved up to the stinging tentacles (see photo). By now Sam moves freely back and forth between the Peach and Ultra Red haddoni. On several occasions I had observed Sam sharing the Peach haddoni for brief periods with the Madagascar. One early morning 16 days after the two anemones was placed in the tank, I saw Sam being hosted by the the large 13" Ultra Red Haddoni. In my dimly moonlit fish room I snapped this shot (photo). He was stunned by the camera flash and swam off after 2 photos.

What a phenomenon! This may be the only Pesonifer Angelfish that lived to tell the tale.....


Author: Leonard Ho
Location: Southern California

I'm a passionate aquarist of over 30 years, a coral reef lover, and the blog editor for Advanced Aquarist. While aquarium gadgets interest me, it's really livestock (especially fish), artistry of aquariums, and "method behind the madness" processes that captivate my attention.


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