Domestic Angelfish

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Domestic Angelfish

"Clown" a Modified Zebra Lace
May 1983: Vol.6, # 5

Published with permission from BowTie Inc., publisher of

My seven 1982 FAMA articles on angelfish genetics covered the mutant genes that are present in today's commercially-bred angelfish. Combinations of two mutant genes also were discussed and illustrated.
Some phenotypes have been named, such as black lace, black, marble, ghost, blushing, smokey, chocolate, gold, zebra, zebra lace, blue, butterfly and cobra. Additional phenotypes that are seen occasionally are blushing marble, blushing smokey, blushing chocolate, blushing new gold (white), and several others that are less distinctive, such as several combinations with zebra. It is understandable that no names have been applied to the many phenotypes that are not easily distinguishable from others. In fact it is not uncommon to encounter an angelfish that must be tested genetically, by appropriate crosses, to discover its complete genotype, even though it is usually possible to discern part of its genotype from its appearance.

A distinctive angelfish that has not been named is one for which I propose the name "clown" angelfish, the subject of this article. This fish, having a bold and striking blotched pattern on the body, is actually a modified zebra lace, either with, or without, a single dose of stripeless. Its fins are like the fins of a zebra lace. The front of the adult's body is speckled with black dots and its ventral fins are horizontally banded with light and dark.

The clown angelfish has large black spots and blotches on a light-colored body.

Over the years I had noticed that the zebra lace (having zebra plus one dose of dark) angelfish may produce offspring in which all of the zebra lace individuals have three straight, uniform, dark, vertical body stripes (Fig. 1 left). Occasionally I saw zebra lace with crooked or broken body stripes, but I did not have records of their parentage. More recently, Bill Lutz found, and gave me some zebra lace with irregular markings instead of three stripes on the body. I raised these to maturity and kept one pair. These were tested by crossing each with wild-type (silver). The female produced 267, all either zebra or zebra lace.

Fig. 1: Zebra lace. This commonly seen type has three straight vertical stripes on the body.

The male (Fig. 2 right) produced 330, all either zebra or zebra lace. Thus, both of these zebra lace with irregular markings were homozygous (double-dose) for zebra, and heterozygous (single-dose) for dark. All of the offspring had irregular markings, varying from slightly irregular or broken three stripes to blotched, with little or no striped pattern, in some of the zebra lace. Since all of the irregulary-marked offspring were heterozygous (single-dose) zebras, I concluded that irregular marking in zebra lace is not a result of homozygous, rather than heterozygous, zebra.

Fig. 2: Clown male, a zebra lace with irregular markings.
Fig. 3: Clown, from silver female x clown male in Fig.2

Although every one of the offspring of irregular zebra lace x wild-type (silver) had irregular markings, none of the zebras had as bizarre markings as the most blotched of the zebra lace. The zebras all had vertical stripes, sometimes broken and sometimes with one or more partial stripes.

Fig. 4: clown, from silver female x clown male in Fig. 2.
Fig. 5: Clown, from silver female x clown male in fig. 2.

While many of the zebra lace had irregular stripes like the zebras, some had very interesting blotches and spots. Those that had the most blotches and the least striping were saved for future breeders, examples of which are illustrated in Figs. 3-7. These will be bred brother to sister to find out whether the percent of blotched offspring can be increased in that way.

Fig. 6: Clown from silver female x clown male in Fig. 2.

The problem in trying to produce clown angelfish from parents like I used, crossed with silver, is that many of their offspring have uneven stripes instead of large blotches. Those with uneven stripes are too similar to zebra lace to deserve being called clown angelfish. This problem was solved, rather by accident, by Bill Lutz, who had kept some irregularly-marked zebra lace when he gave me some. In an attempt to eventually produce some "purple" angelfish (blushing black), Mr. Lutz first crossed a zebra lace female, which happened to be one with irregular markings, with a blushing male. Some of the offspring from this cross were zebra butterfly (one dose each of zebra, dark and stripeless), which I discussed, along with butterfly, in Part Four (August, 1982) of my angelfish genetics series.

Fig. 7: Clown, from silver female x clown male in Fig. 2.

I had found that adding zebra to butterfly increases the number of dark blotches on the body. Butterfly has one or sometimes two or three dark blotches, while zebra butterfly (Fig. 8) has additional dark blotches. The interesting and useful outcome of the cross by Mr. Lutz was not that he got some zebra butterflys, which were expected, but that every one of these had more dark blotches on the body than any zebra butterflys that I had seen.

Fig. 8: Butterfly zebra (one dose each of dark, stripeless and zebra). One parent was a zebra lace with uniform stripes, as in Fig. 1.

In fact, his zebra butterflys were so hightly blotched (Fig. 9) that most of them appeared indistinguishable from blotched zebra lace. Although the genetics of the irregularly-marked zebra lace and the highly-blotched zebra butterfly has not been investigated, it appears to be a possibility that the genetic modification that causes irregular markings in zebra lace may also be responsible for increased blotching in zebra butterfly.

Fig. 9: Clown (one dose each of dark, stripeless and zebra)> One parent was a zebra lace with irregular markings, as in Fig. 2.

A clown angelfish is either a zebra lace or zebra butterfly that is genetically modified, resulting in large blotches on the body. The best method of producing clown angelfish, at least until more is known, probably is to cross a clown angelfish with a blushing. You will not get all clown offspring, but you also will get no striped individuals. If you happen to have a clown parent like one of my original pair (one dose of dark and two doses of zebra), you may get about 50% clown offspring because all of the offspring will receive one dose of zebra and one dose of stripeless, and half of them will receive one dose of dark. If your clown parent happens to be like the type produced by Mr. Lutz (one dose each of dark, zebra and stripeless), you will get more types of offspring, including blushing. I would not breed clown to clown for commercial production, because this mating will produce some offspring without the gene for stripeless, and these could be striped instead of blotched.

At this point, the unknown in breeding clown angelfish is the genetics of the irregular marking. If, for example, a single recessive modifier is involved, you would get no clown angelfish from the above two crosses if the blushing parent does not carry the recessive gene. If a single dominant modifier is needed to get the clown pattern, then your chances are better for these two crosses. If you get no clowns from clown x blushing, then I would cross the offspring having zebra and dark (either zebra lace or zebra butterfly) back with clown. I hope that the genetics of the modifier(s) will be worked out so that exact instructions for breeding clown angelfish will be possible.

The fact that every clown angelfish differs from every other clown, like fingerprints, adds to the excitement of keeping and raising this angelfish type. Even though the clown angelfish is not true-breeding, and will not be, it is striking and different enough to be an important addition for the commercial and amateur angelfish breeder.

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