tomato clownfish in a reef tank

Tomato clownfish

The Tomato Clownfish is one of the most popular saltwater fish. The world loves a clown and every reef tank deserves one. But, since it is best to only keep one clownfish species in a tank, how should you decide if this is there right species for you?

This guide covers what it takes to care for a tomato clownfish in a reef tank and shares the pros and cons to expect if you do.  

Description and Scientific Name

The scientific name of the Tomato Clownfish (TC) is Amphiprion frenatus.  Other common names you might find them labeled as, regionally, include the Red Clownfish or Bridled Clownfish. Whatever you prefer to call it (please don’t call it Nemo), this pretty fish is sure to add color and personality to your aquarium for many years to come.

They are beautiful fish with a reddish-orange color that will turn to a darker brown color in more mature females. As juveniles, they have 3 white stripes, just like the common clownfish–but A. frenatus clowns lose their second and third stripes as they get older.

The iconic tomato clownfish has a single large white band just behind the eye. The fish is very hardy. They eat live, frozen and prepared foods with gusto, are tolerant of water conditions and are bold/active inside the aquarium glass. That makes them a reasonably good choice for a first-time aquarium owner or anyone who is looking for an alternative to the ubiquitous common clownfish.

Natural Habitat

TC’s are primarily native to the Western Pacific but can be found on tropical reefs in other parts of the Pacific Ocean, where they are most commonly found swimming among the tentacles of a bubble tip anemone or Adhesive anemone, Cryptodendrum adhaesivum.

Tomato Clownfish in the Saltwater Aquarium

Like most of the other clownfish species, the tomato clownfish doesn’t need a lot of room to roam about, because they are relatively site attached. They will establish a territory or home and spend most of their time there.

However, since they are relatively larger than common, percula and skunk clowns, they do require a bit more space. You could probably maintain a breeding pair in a dedicated 20-gallon tank. But if you want to add them to a community tank, it would be wise to add them to a habitat that is at least 40 gallons (~150 liters) in volume.

Once a pair does establish ‘their’ territory in ‘your’ tank, you would be advised to keep your hands and arms out of the way, or you risk getting a nice nip from your local neighborhood fishy friend.

What I love most about these fish (in addition to the awesome white stripe on their heads), is that they are nearly bulletproof in a saltwater aquarium. With basic saltwater aquarium water parameters, the fish will be fine.

Tomato clownfish, Amphiprion frenatus

Compatibility

It has been reported that TC’s will breed with other similar species–known as members of the “Tomato complex”, which sounds a bit more like a psychiatric disorder where you always think that tomatoes are out to get you.

You and I both know…they are out to get you.

The other members of the Tomato complex are:

  • A. melanopus
  • A. rubrocinctus
  • A. ephippium
  • A. mccullochi

The most common of these species (around here at least) is A. melanopus, the Cinnamon clownfish.

Outside of the special and likely rare situation where you would want to create a hybrid pair, it is best NOT to mix two species of clownfishes together or even damselfish species (which are also closely related). Beyond that, TC’s are largely compatible with many other saltwater fish, as long as the other fish are not notoriously aggressive or dangerous to clowns, like triggerfish, eels, groupers, lionfish, etc.

You also might want to avoid keeping them with super-shy fish species that might not be able to compete for food with this large clown that may even seem like they are begging for food.

Gender bender

Like all other clownfish, TC’s are hermaphroditic, which means they have both male and female reproductive organs. Juvenile fish first become male. The largest, dominant male will then change gender and become female if the resident female dies or leaves.

Feeding

Tomato Clownfish are omnivores. They will eat anything from live food, frozen food, and even flake food.

Tomato clownfish Amphiprion frenatus

Lifespan

A tomato clownfish in a saltwater aquarium can be expected to live anywhere from ~1-2 years on the short-side to ~15+ on the longer side. It is important to pick the species you really want.

Size

In her book, Clownfishes, Joyce Wilkerson conservatively reports that tomato clowns can grow to be 4 inches or more. Other sources online reference either 5 inches or 5 1/2 as the maximum size. Like most (all?) of the other clownfish species, female A. frenatus are larger than male.

Recommended reading

For more information about caring for this or any clownfish species, I recommend you pick up this book.

Your turn

Do you have experience with this fish? Or perhaps you selected a different clownfish species instead? Please leave a comment below and let us know what you think about this fish.

tomato clownfish in a reef tank

Comments

  1. I’m suprised they are that popular, but a breeding pair is gorgeous!

  2. i had a tom clown 20 yrs ago he was very clever, im back in to reef keeping 20 yrs on.. a lot has changed since my calcium plus and coral gravel days also with the bio balls nitrate factory…
    ive been set up now 2 yrs with my 400 ltr tank.
    was running a curve 5 skimmer .. not impressed tends to go off on one and just over flow..
    but hey ho… last week bought a tunze 9410 for 50 uk pounds .. what a deal. this skimmer is like unreal its just unreal..
    again unreal

  3. I love tomato clowns. I had one that lived for 16 years.
    Their brilliant colours light up a tank.

  4. Hi Al,

    I’m fairly new to the reef aquarium hobby, mostly had freshwater in the past for some 30+ years and finally setting up my second saltwater aquarium in the next few months. Your article said it was usually recommended that only one pair of clowns be kept in a tank…my question is…would it be possible to keep a second pair of clowns (possibly a second species) in a larger tank as my 265-gallon tank since it is almost 8 feet long? If I placed two bubble tip anemones at opposite ends, would you think the two pairs would be able to co-exist at that point? And if so, would you recommend adding both pairs at the same time (one pair in each end near their respective anenome) or add one pair first letting it choose its “territory” and then adding the second pair later to the other anenome? And lastly, if two pairs is possible, what other species would you recommend that would do well in such a situation?

    Thank you for all the helpful information your articles always provide!! I love reading them as they are helping me tremendously with preparations for the new system.

  5. Author

    Hi Jeremy,

    Thanks for the question. I’ve unfortunately never had the pleasure of experimenting with an 8-foot tank, so I can’t say for sure. I can share that I tried it in my own 70 gallon (4 foot tank) when I first started in this hobby years and years ago and the common clowns destroyed the pink skunks. To your point, an 8-foot tank provides twice the territory for them to leave each other alone. I know people have experience mixing tangs in tanks that size (which is another ‘rule’). As for the order–what I’ve seen with other aggressive situations is that it is generally better to add them at the same time, rather than separately. You want them each to experience carving out a small part of the territory at the same time rather than have the first group experience the ‘entire territory’ first, because it is generally that first fish that protects it’s territory at all costs. When they both experience each other first they aren’t sure ‘who’s’ territory they are in.

    With all that said, I don’t recommend mixing clowns for the vast majority of us. I was stubborn and had to see it for myself, and I did. I’m trying to save another clownfish life :).

  6. Author

    Muttley, thanks for jumping in on the conversation. Yup, the statistic is a little dated (as I increasingly become), but I was a bit surprised too.

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