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 Text and photos copyright John P. Hoover

past fishes of the month


Centropyge potteri


male - Kahe Point, O`ahu. 25 ft.

Centropyge potteri (Jordan & Metz, 1912)
     The only truly common angelfish species in Hawai`i, Potter's Angel is rusty orange overall with many irregular, vertical gray-blue lines. The orange darkens to bluish black on much of the lower side and this dark area is larger in males than in females, making them easy to distinguish in the field (i.e. females show more orange). The edges of the rear fins are striped horizontally with bright blue and black. Males have more blue on the fins than females and their bodies are slightly more elongate. Some individuals are much darker than others and a rare all blue-and-black specimen has been photographed by Hiroyuki Tanaka.
      Potter's Angels live in pairs or in small groups of a male and several females, usually in clear water at depths of 10-150 ft. under ledges or on reef slopes with plenty of shelter holes. One researcher ranked them among the ten most frequently seen fishes in such areas. They feed on detritus and algae and although they inhabit a specific territory they do not defend it from other algae-eating fishes. (The male does defend his harem and breeding territory from other males, however.) These fish can be hard to see without scuba, but adventuresome snorkelers on O`ahu might find them off the cliffs at Kawaihoa (Portlock) Point, where for some reason they are frequently in the open. Big Island snorkelers can see them at Hönaunau or Kealakekua Bay in only a few feet of water. Divers, of course, will see them almost anywhere, peering from the coral and darting from one hiding place to the next.
In captivity they do well if given peaceful tankmates and plenty of time to adjust. Like many angelfishes they are slow to begin feeding. They rank third in importance among Hawaiian fishes exported for the aquarium trade. The name honors Frederick A. Potter (1874-1961), director of the Waikïkï Aquarium from its founding in 1903 until 1940. To 5 in. Endemic.

female - Makua, O`ahu. 100 ft.

male - Makua, O`ahu. 100 ft.

     Potter's Angelfish spawn around dusk generally over the highest outcropping of rock or coral in their territory. Reproductive activity is highest from December through May. Dr. Philip Lobel once recorded an entire spawning session on film. About one hour before sunset a male approached a female, swimming with a distinct vertical undulating motion. Stopping above her he erected dorsal and anal fins, fluttered his pectoral fins, turned partially on his side, and drifted slowly upward as he fluttered. When the female did not follow, he darted back down and swam around her with the undulating motion again, swooping up and down. Courtship continued until the female responded. By this time both fish had considerably intensified their red coloration and were producing audible clicks and grunts. The male then led her to a prominent outcropping and rose above it about 3 ft, the female following. She darted back prematurely the first few times, but the male, continuing his display, finally enticed her to remain in midwater, where he approaching her from underneath. He nuzzled her vent with his snout until she released a single burst of eggs. Simultaneously, he released his sperm, then both darted to cover with the female chasing the male and nipping at his tail fin. Soon after, the two hid themselves for the night.

spawning - photo by Richard Pyle
Unless spawning, Potter's Angelfish rarely swims in the open. The one below, however, has ventured quite far from cover to browse on algae growing on the shell of a Green Turtle. Turtles regularly come to cleaning stations such as this one (located at the dive site called Five Graves at Makena, Maui) to have algae removed from their shells. Surgeonfishes of several species commonly perform this service but it is unusual in Hawai`i to see an angelfish doing it.

Makena, Maui. 40 ft.

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  Text and photos copyright John P. Hoover