Percula Clownfish Vs. Ocellaris Clownfish

The difference between clownfish species can seem minute but they’re important to know if you’re going to keep them. One of the most common questions fielded is about the Percula Clownfish versus the Ocellaris Clownfish, two distinct species that have a ton of similarities.

Ready to learn the difference and what they mean in your tank? Great! Let’s dive right in so you can know the differences between these beautiful fish.

Ocellaris Clownfish

Fast Facts on the Percula Clownfish

  • Common Name: Percula Clownfish
  • Alternate Common Name(s): Orange Clownfish, True Percula Clownfish
  • Latin Name: Amphiprion percula
  • Care Level: Moderate
  • Tank Size: 10+ Gallons
  • Size: 4”
  • Diet: Omnivorous
  • Behavior: Semi-aggressive
  • Lifespan: 15+ years
  • Reproduction Type: Egg Layer
  • Water Temperature: 75–80°F (24–27°C)
  • Salinity: 1.020 – 1.024
  • pH: 8.0-8.4

Fast Facts on the Ocellaris Clownfish

  • Common Name: Ocellaris Clownfish
  • Alternate Common Name(s): Common Clownfish, False Percula Clownfish, Nemo Fish
  • Latin Name: Amphiprion ocellaris
  • Care Level: Moderate
  • Tank Size: 10+ Gallons
  • Size: 4”
  • Diet: Omnivorous
  • Behavior: Semi-aggressive
  • Lifespan: 15+ years
  • Reproduction Type: Egg Layer
  • Water Temperature: 75–80°F (24–27°C)
  • Salinity: 1.020 – 1.024
  • pH: 8.0-8.4

How Similar Are the Percula Clownfish and Ocellaris Clownfish?

These fish are very similar in social behavior, and appearance, and even have identical parameters required for their care. For that reason, it’s no big deal if you accidentally identified an Amphiprion ocellaris with Amphiprion percula when you bought them.

There’s a reason the Ocellaris Clownfish is often called the False Percula Clownfish. The similarities are striking and the two both belong to the same complex of clownfish known as the Percula Clownfish.

These complexes are important when it comes to clownfish care overall. The species within them aren’t really compatible with other complexes, and they can cause a lot of problems if you mix and match the wrong fish.

Oddly enough, most clownfish are pretty aggressive. Those in the Percula Complex tend to be a little bit more on the mellow side but they can still possess some territorial instincts that cause problems in your tank.

Their appearance is hard to judge if you don’t know what to look for, but it’s the best tell you’ll be able to find when it comes to differentiating the species.

Indeed, Percula and Ocellaris clownfish are so similar they can interbreed. Hybrids are common among those breeding ornamental fish, often crossing exotic Percula and Ocellaris color morphs to create some impressive fish.

It appears that some of the hybrids are even viable for further breeding, which is a rarity when you’re breeding different species.

Overall, the similarities of these fish far outweigh the differences, but it still pays off to know what kind of clownfish you’re looking at. Especially if you plan to breed in the future, as hybrids need to be carefully planned.

These fish even bond with the same anemone species. It’s easy to understand why people get the two confused, btu there are some easy ways to differentiate them.

What Are the Key Differences?

There are a few differences that make these fish easier to tell apart:

  • Fin Spines- Percula Clownfish have 10 ays, while Ocellaris will have 11. These are hard to count but they’re the most reliable way to tell the species apart. Be aware that sometimes the fish will be missing a ray, creating a total of 9 or 10 respectively.
  • Eye Color- The eyes of an Ocellaris Clownfish will have a  bit of orange but not too much. The eyes of the Percula Clownfish, on the other hand, have a bold ring of orange surrounding the black.
  • Lines Between Colors- The Ocellaris Clownfish has a very thin layer of black between the colors it displays on the body. The Percula Clownfish will usually have a much thicker line which makes it easy to distinguish them.
  • Size- Ocellaris Clownfish tend to be a bit bigger and have taller fins, but this isn’t a great way to tell them apart if you haven’t used other methods first.

The minor cosmetic differences are easiest to find in the standard orange color morphs of these fish. With the huge amount of exotic color morphs out there. If you’re buying something like that then the breeder will always make it clear what species (or hybrid) you’re buying.

While the general guidelines above often hold true through morphs, such as the pronounced black line on Percula Misbar Clownfish, it does make things a lot more complicated when you’re identifying the fish.

The other major difference is the range of these creatures in the wild. Despite their incredible similarity, there’s no overlap in their natural territories.

The Ocellaris Clownfish hails from the areas off the Eastern Coast of China and can be found in Japan to Malaysia and Indonesia.

Meanwhile, the Percula Clownfish has a smaller range, covering the Northeastern portion of the Australian coast to the Eastern portion of the coasts of Papua New Guinea.

Oddly, despite how close these fish are geographical, there’s actually no overlap in their natural environments. They just seem to have developed into separate species that are very closely related. 

Hybridization doesn’t occur in the wild, but it’s seen often with aquarium keepers. Even their differences just seem to emphasize the similarity of these fish. It takes a bit of nitpicking at details to correctly identify one of the Percula complex clownfish.

Which Clownfish is Right for My Tank?

As a general rule, the Percula Complex fish are interchangeable when it comes to their care. There are some minor differences in behavior and size that can make one species more suitable for a given environment than the other.

Percula Clownfish are a bit more aggressive than the Ocellaris Clownfish and not quite as hardy. The latter is hardly noticeable, but it may be a factor if you have trouble keeping tank parameters from swinging around. They’re both relatively hardy fish.

The smaller size of the Ocellaris Clownfish also makes it more suitable for nano tanks. The size difference, at extremes, can be a bit over an inch which makes a huge difference in 5-10 gallon tanks.

Likewise, Ocellaris Clownfish are the easier of the two to breed. They’re ideal for someone who wants to dip their toes in the water of saltwater fish breeding without going through a ton of trials and tribulations.

For that reason, the Ocellaris Clownfish is also the cheaper of the two. When you compare prices you’ll usually see a 300-500% price difference between the species, although the margin has closed a bit in recent years.

In the end, it really boils down to a judgment call on your part, but you’ll be fine picking whichever species you prefer due to their similarity.

Are There Any Differences in Tank Requirements?

No, in this case, the fish are well established in the exact same conditions.

Tankmates will bear more consideration if you have a Percula. In nano tanks, the best practice is to just keep a clownfish (or pair if your system will support it) but in larger tanks, the Percula will have a few more compatibility issues.

Do I Need an Anenome for my Percula or Ocellaris?

Clownfish’s symbiotic relationship with anemones is one of the reasons they’re a fast favorite among fish keepers. It’s exciting to watch them dart in and out of the stinging tentacles, and one of the most iconic relationships I can think of in the wild.

That said, anemones can cause serious headaches for a new fishkeeper.

They require specialized lighting, may need to be fed manually, and are much harder to keep alive than the clownfish that inhabit them. In general, they’re not a beginner-friendly organism and those who are going down this route should consider corals first unless they have a considerable amount of marine tank experience.

Then you have to make sure the species is compatible with the Percula Complex.

The main three that these fish inhabit are the following:

  • Giant Carpet Sea Anemone (Stichodactyla gigantea)
  • Magnificent Sea Anemone (Heteractis magnifica)
  • Merten’s Carpet Sea Anemone (Stichodactyla mertensii)

There are also a few others that are sometimes compatible but that’s taking a bit of a gamble.

If you’d like to see the mutualistic behavior but aren’t confident keeping an anemone then you’ll find a few corals can serve the same purpose. Corals are generally easier to take care of than anemones but the clownfish will still form the same bond.

In any case, neither is needed for a healthy Percula or Ocellaris Clownfish but the relationship formed between clowns and anemones is a lot of fun to observe, making the payoff great for those whose skills are up to the task.

When Would You Interbreed Ocellaris and Percula Clownfish?

Since these fish are so similar, they can interbreed, but producing hybrids is a risky business. Many of them will be sterile, and some people look down on their production since they can enter the trade in areas where people don’t know any better.

On the other hand, there are some truly impressive color morphs out there that can be produced by pairing the right Ocellaris and Percula Clownfish. Thus, just producing hybrids isn’t the goal. The end goal is to produce a unique color morph that may or may not be viable for future generations.

Clownfish genetics are a strange mess. Even world-class breeders like ORA occasionally have strange things happen with hybrids.

If you’re up to the task, Ocellaris and Percula Clownfish seem to bond and pair off easily. Their physical and behavioral similarities make them a perfect match.

The problems arise further down the line when hybrids are hard to breed. Some of the hybrids will be sterile in any case, but those which have a viable set of genetics for further breeding often have trouble finding a bond with a “regular” Ocellaris or Percula.

It seems the hybrids just aren’t recognized by the non-hybridized clownfish.

Quite often your hybrids may only breed with other hybrids when they’re viable. This can create a messy logistics chain and complicate breeding programs but it’s not too hard to work around. 

It’s just a lot more difficult than breeding guppies.

These fish are compatible for breeding, but it pays off to take a little bit of extra time to make sure it’s the right decision for your plans. Clownfish have incredible color diversity, and the ability of the Percula Complex to hybridize opens up some great options for an experienced breeder, but managing the genetics isn’t the easiest task.

Different Qualities, But Almost the Same

Percula and Ocellaris Clownfish have some incredible similarities despite their different natural habitats. These similarities and their ease of care make them a fast favorite among marine aquarists, but it’s still important to be able to distinguish the Percula versus Ocellaris Clownfish.

So, now that you know what you have, what are your future plans?