King Angelfish, Holacanthus passer
The King Angelfish, Holacanthus passer, whose common Spanish name is ángel real, is a species in the family Pomacanthidae, the Angelfish, known as ángeles in Mexico. Globally, there are eleven species in the genus Holocanthus, of which five are found in Mexican waters, three in the Atlantic and two in the Pacific.
The King Angelfish have deep compressed rectangular shaped bodies and vary significantly in color. The adult King Angelfish have a dark blue gray coloration with one narrow vertical white band behind the gill covers, yellow-orange caudal and pectoral fins, and transparent pelvic fins. They also have a distinguishing orange spot at the corner of the mouth. In stark contrast the juveniles are multicolored, with a series of stunningly colored vertical stripes, which follow this pattern (starting at the head): yellow, blue (narrow), brown (through the eye), blue (narrow), orange (broad), white, then five dark brown stripes separated by narrow blue lines and a narrow blue line circling the entire body. These fish have a small mouth with brush-like teeth; their gill covers have a long spine attached. They also feature a single continuous dorsal fin with fourteen spines and sixteen to eighteen rays. Their anal and dorsal fins end in filaments and their caudal fins are straight. Their bodies are covered with rough scales.
The King Angelfish reside over and within rocky and coral reefs where they are fairly common at depths up to 260 feet. Juveniles are frequently found in coastal tidal pools. Adults reach a maximum length of 36 cm (14.2 inches) and feed primarily on plankton and sponges. They are a poorly studied species and as such very limited information is available about their behavioral patterns. The King Angelfish are found in all Mexican waters of the Pacific but are notably absent from the north portions of the Sea of Cortez and northern portions of coastal Baja.
The King Angelfish are an easy fish to identify due to their unique coloration and are therefore difficult to confuse with other species, noting that they are somewhat similar to juvenile Cortez Angelfish, Pomacanthus zonipectus.
The King Angelfish are of interest to scuba divers, being fairly abundant in certain parts of the Sea of Cortez. They are of no interest to recreational anglers. When caught, they are only retained by subsistence fishermen, thus are typically considered a “catch and release.”