Centropyge cocosensis and C. woodheadi are two new names for new species angelfish which aquarists have long recognized as distinct. There’s been much confusion and speculation on the true identity of both the Cocos Island Lemonpeel, affectionately called the Cocopeel Angelfish, as well as the black-edged heraldi angelfish from the Southwest Pacific Ocean.
Both Centropyge cocosensis and C. woodheadi are only slightly distinct from some very similar looking species. Of course the Centropyge cocosensis has long been studied and proposed as a separate species from the true lemonpeel angelfish, Centropyge flavissima. And the same can be said about the Centropyge woodheadi, the yellow pygmy angelfish from Fiji and Tonga, which sports a little bit darker black around the eye, and a black edge to the dorsal fin.
Interestingly, both of these fish ‘species’ have been proposed before, and previous work has concluded against the species status of Centropyge cocosensis. Furthermore, Centropyge woodheadi was first erected in 1998 by Rudie Kuiter as a distinct species from C. heraldi, but was later synonymized.
The research for this new taxonomic work was actually performed by Kang-Ning Shen who described Debora’s pygmy angelfish, Centropyge deborae, so we’re not dealing with a rookie taxonomist here. Due to the dense nature of the genetic analysis undertaken to describe Centropyge cocosensis and C. woodheadi, we reached out to Dr. Luiz Rocha for comment.
Dr. Rocha states that Centropyge cososensis and C. eibli basically show no genetic difference, they might even be good card carrying species but the data is not convincing. Dr. Rocha’s research lab just sequenced the whole genome of the half black angelfish, Centropyge vrolikii, and they are comparing these species at a genomic level which will give these closely related species much better resolution at the genetic level.
Whatever the ‘true’ status of the Cocopeel angelfish, and the Woodhead’s Pygmy angelfish, the fact remains that these fish have been appreciated as distinct morphs in the aquarium hobby for some time. Centropyge cocosensis and C. woodheadi are described by Kang-Ning Shen et. al. in the current volume of Marine Biodiversity.