Key West Gray Angelfish

Gray Angelfish

One of the most beautiful saltwater fish that should be observed when you go Key West snorkeling is the gray angelfish, or Pomacanthus arcuatus. Snorkelers often find these friendly, curious fish following them around as they swim and explore. Slow moving and graceful fish, they are usually found among the coral reef environments at depths of 6 - 99 feet below the surface. While they do not school, are considered territorial and lead a solitary life, sometimes gray angelfish travel in pairs and have been known to keep the same mate for half of lives. Most have a lifespan of 5 - 12 years. They seem to be a little more aggressive when compared to other saltwater fish, but do not seem to be bothered by snorkelers. One of their most unique characteristics is that they make a moaning sound when recognizing one another!


When gray angelfish are young, they look quite different from the adults. They begin their lives as black with five yellow stripes on the body and head and a yellow ring around their lips, but dramatically change to a lighter gray color as they mature. Their tails are square shaped and flow into a transparent rim. Younger gray angelfish love to clean parasites off of other fish.


Adult gray angelfish have a sleek, elegant design and are popular subjects for underwater photographers and artists due to their brightly colored bodies. Here are some of the eye-catching physical characteristics of gray angelfish:

  • Thin, disc-shaped flat body with gray or brown spot in the center that is bordered in light gray
  • Small, white mouth with protruding lower jaw and comb-like teeth
  • Scaled vertical fins
  • Light charcoal to gray-colored body with yellow pectoral fins
  • Neon blue tips on tails and trailing dorsal fins
  • Grow from 10 - 24 inches in length and may weigh 4.5 pounds when fully grown


Found in the waters of the Western Atlantic ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and in sub-tropical regions, gray angelfish are most content when living among the diverse coral reef and sponges in the following areas:

  • New England as far north as Maine
  • Gulf of Mexico
  • Florida
  • Bahamas
  • Caribbean
  • Brazil, as far south as Rio de Janeiro
  • West Indies
  • Bermuda


Gray angelfish are mainly carnivores, but feed on sea animals and plants, such as:

  • Tunicates
  • Zoantharians
  • Gorgonians
  • Hydroids
  • Bryozoans
  • Algae
  • Sponge
  • Seagrasses


Coral reefs are the ideal habitat for gray angelfish to hide during the nighttime when larger marine animal predators are most active. Youngsters hide in the grassy areas of the ocean and in the shallow patch reefs. Predators to watch out for are:

  • Giant groupers
  • Sea Anemones
  • Octopuses


One of 86 species, the scientific classification of Pomacanthus arcuatus is as follows:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Pomacanthidae
  • Genus: Pomacanthus
  • Species: P. arcuatus

When you go on a Key West snorkel, enhance your experience by searching the coral reefs to observe the beauty and grace of the beautiful gray angelfish.