Is a Spadefish
the Same Thing as an Angelfish?
20 November 1998
The Atlantic Spadefish is sometimes mistaken for
an angelfish because of the shape of its fins. Spadefish
and Angelfish are members of two separate fish families:
Ephippidae and Pomacanthidae.
The spadefish, or Chaetodipterus faber,
is common off the coast of North Carolina. It is
often found schooling around the many shipwrecks
along our shore, and it can be seen in the North
Carolina Aquariums logo!
The spadefish is generally larger than the angelfish.
It can grow to three feet in length, weighing as
much as 20 pounds. Because of its size, sportfishermen
enjoy catching this fish -- it has a reputation
for tenaciousness. Two species are found in North
America: the Atlantic and Pacific spadefish.
Young spadefish are entirely dark brown or black
with white molting. Adults are silvery with four
to six black vertical bands on each side. Very large
spadefish sometimes lack the dark stripes. Its deep,
short body allows it to make quick and easy lateral
movements in tight spaces such as shipwrecks.
spadefish can be
found in the Atlantic Ocean from Massachusetts to
Bermuda and in the Gulf of Mexico as far as the
southeastern coast of Brazil. It prefers shallow
coastal waters and is often found in large schools
around natural and artificial reefs.
is similar is body shape to the spadefish.
It is generally found in warmer waters.
The spadefish spawns in the spring and summer. Small juveniles
sometimes drift on their sides, mimicking floating debris
as a means of protection from predators. Crustaceans and
small encrusting invertebrates are favorite foods of the
spadefish, It finds these morsels around wrecks, buoys,
pilings and hard bottoms. Spadefish may also eat the tentacles
Angelfish are known as small to medium-sized fish. The
Gray Angelfish is one of the largest, reaching 14 inches
long. It may be one of the hardiest of the angelfish species
as well, since it is no stranger to colder New England waters.
Most angelfish prefer warmer tropical waters. Of the 74
known species of angelfish, only six live in the Atlantic
Ocean. Most angelfish species are found in the Pacific and
Many angelfish are quite colorful, particularly juveniles,
and are favorites of aquarists. The Queen Angelfish, found
in waters off Bermuda, northeast Florida and the north Gulf
of Mexico to Brazil, has a deep blue body with an orange
spot on each scale. Its entire caudal fin is yellow to orange.
Despite its brilliant color, the Queen Angelfish can blend
in perfectly with its reef environment to avoid predators.
While spadefish feed on shellfish, many angelfish species
prefer to eat sponges. They are diurnal, which means they
are most active during the daytime.