The Goldflake angel and three alternatives


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We help you discover more about this stunning and highly sought after reef fish, and take a look at three close relatives to consider if you have a different budget.

What habitat does it live in?

Goldflakes are found in the deeper water around the outer edges of reefs and nearby channels and drop-offs, often in shallow water but sometimes at 10-65m/33-213’. According to angelfish expert Dr Richard Pyle they’re found individually, in pairs and small groups. Once a true rarity, they’re now seen much more regularly. 

Is it hard to keep?

Despite its looks and comparative rarity, it is not particularly difficult to keep. However, this is really a fish for the experienced fishkeeper. 

In the wild it feeds on sponges and tunicates it grazes from the reef, but most captive specimens will take algae, Mysis and brineshrimp, as well as some dried and frozen foods aimed at meeting the dietary requirements of specialist marine fishes. 

Marine expert Mark Strawbridge told us: “Over the past 12 years at Taunton Aquarium Centre I’ve bought and sold more than 15 Goldflakes and, in my experience, small adults readily feed, but the smaller juveniles are hit or miss. 

“If considering a Goldflake, ensure it is feeding well before you buy it. Provide it with good water quality and plenty of areas to hide in. Don’t forget a good balanced diet and it should make a nice centrepiece for your aquarium. The Goldflake is a relatively solitary species, more commonly seen on its own than in pairs, or sometimes in small groups of adults.”

Does their coloration change?

Yes, like many other angels, the Goldflake changes colour as it grows. Mark said: “Juveniles have random dark bars throughout the body, with a distinctive uneven black spot at the rear of the dorsal fin. The Goldflake shares the distinctive ‘blue lip’ characteristic of its nearest relative, the Flagfin angel, A. trimaculatus. This less expensive fish is something to consider if Goldflakes are outside your price range.

“As juveniles they have a crisp yellow body with gold centres to the scales. As the fish matures, the outer edges of the scales begin to darken and the golden spots become more prominent. Its species name xanthopunctatus means ‘golden spots’.”

What size tank does it need?

Wild Goldflake angels reach a maximum of 25cm/10” in length, but you’d be lucky to see one above 5-18cm/6-7” in an aquarium. They can sometimes be aggressive towards other species, though that’s not normally a problem in a spacious tank. 

Other angels are a no-no and we would only consider a single fish, unless your tank is truly vast and starting with very young juveniles. 

It’s not specifically a coral eater, so you might get away with it in a reef tank. However, as it naturally grazes on a range of foods, it wouldn’t surprise us if it picked at coral polyps in a reef set-up.  We doubt whether clams and tubeworms would be safe. 

Mark agreed that they are potentially dodgy with many inverts: “To be honest, they’re a risk. I wouldn’t trust them with LPS or zoanthids, but it’s all down to the individual fish. I have three customers with them in reef aquariums and, to be fair, all are well behaved. However, they’re all in ‘posh’ SPS tanks.

“In the wild, these fish have been observed feeding mainly on sponges and sea squirts, but small adults readily accept small shrimp such as Mysis and brineshrimp in captivity. With a little time, they can be trained to feed on flake food from your fingers. Algae, such as nori, should be offered regularly to give a good balance to the diet.”

Where does it come from?

The stunning Goldflake or Gold-spotted angel, Apoloemichthys xanthopunctatus (pronounced ay-po-leem-ick-thiss zan-tho-punk-tay-tus) is found around various groups of islands in the Pacific Ocean. 

It has been sighted off the Gilbert Islands, Line Islands, Caroline Islands and Phoenix Islands and divers have reported that it varies slightly in appearance according to the location. 

Three others to consider

Bandit angel, Apolemichthys arcuatus

This real rarity, which reaches around 18cm/7”, is seldom seen for sale and usually commands an incredibly high price when it does so. It is from the Eastern Central Pacific around Hawaii and reportedly a common species on the reefs.

However, it lives further from the usual collecting areas of many other marines, which means it is not imported that often. It is predominantly a sponge eater, but also takes algae and other inverts. 


From £1,000. Yes, a grand each!

Cream angel, Apolemichthys xanthurus 

This is one of the most commonly seen members of this group of marine angels. The Cream angel reaches around 15cm/6” (a bit smaller in captivity) and is found in the western Indian Ocean between Africa and Australia, particularly around India and Sri Lanka. However, despite being regularly seen, they can be difficult to acclimatise, so many fishkeepers avoid them.

It’s easily confused with the Yellow-ear angel, A. xanthotis, but this species has black extending past the gill covers, while in the Cream angel it stops before the gill cover. 


From £20-40.

Flagfin angel, Apolemichthys trimaculatus

The 15cm/6” Flagfin angel is a close relative of the Goldflake and one of the best-looking fish money can buy. Its vivid yellow colours look spectacular and it’s one of the easier members of the group. 

At the boundaries of its range it forms natural hybrids. Off South Africa it hybridises with the rarely seen King angel, A. kingi, while off the Maldives it crosses with Armitage’s angel, A. armitagei. 


From £45-80. 

This item was first published in the September 2009 issue of Practical Fishkeeping magazine. It may not be reproduced without written permission.