Along with the line spot triggerfish and tiger angelfish, our visit to Reefwise in Chicago also afforded us our first encounter with a true, juvenile Conspicuous Angelfish. From the moment we became serious about the marine aquarium hobby and all its aspects, the conspicuous angelfish became firmly entrenched as one of our favorite rare reef fish. In the late 90s Chaetodontoplus conspicillatus, or the Conspic Angelfish for short, was the Holy Grail of rare and exotic fish, and that feeling has never left us.
We’ve seen our fair share of Conspic Angelfish and we always take the time to stop and admire them. But until a couple weeks ago, we’d never seen a true juvenile Conspic, since the ‘inverted price structure’ means that the smaller the specimen, the more expensive it is as well. So what is a $1000 fish at twelve inches is a $2000 fish at eight inches, maybe $5000 for a four inch inch fish and so forth.
At that rate you can imagine that the small two inch specimens of Conspic Angelfish are crazy expensive, and crazy rare, but they also look really really different from the adults they will grow into. Much like the black angelfish, Chaetodontoplus niger, which the Conspic is most closely related to, the juvenile is very, very dark in coloration, being nearly all black in the bottom half of the body.
The black color is not discretely outlined but instead forms a strong shading gradient that makes it look like there’s a shadow falling on the fish. This coupled with a lightly colored dorsal fin creates a sort of optical illusion which we surmise might be present to confuse potential predators. At this stage the juvenile Conspic Angelfish is not outwardly attractive, but the promise of what it will become makes it the ultimate case of an ugly duckling reef fish.
The confusing color pattern and the very shy, reclusive nature of this fish as a juvenile is probably what makes it such a rare fish in the aquarium world. This behavior also makes it a challenging fish to photograph, as we found out first hand – this photo collection of the juvenile conspicuous angelfish is probably the best illustration of the species at this stage of development of its eventual glorious appearance.