Why Do Clownfish Eat Their Own Eggs? (Clownfish Behavior)

do clown fish eat their own eggs

Clownfish are small, vibrantly colored fish that live in warm, shallow waters of coral reefs in the Indian and Pacific oceans.

Clownfish get their name from their bright colors and bold white stripes. They are easily recognizable fish with their anemone-like coloring and triangular body shape. On average, clownfish grow to be 3-6 inches long. 

One of the most unique things about clownfish is their symbiotic relationship with sea anemones. The sea anemone’s tentacles have stinging cells that ward off predators, making them a haven for the clownfish.

In return, clownfish defend the anemones from predators and provide nutrients by luring fish for the anemone to kill and eat.

Clownfish have a special mucus coating that allows them to move freely among the anemone’s tentacles without getting stung.

Clownfish live in small groups in and around the anemones, with one breeding pair and some male non-breeders. They are highly territorial and will defend their anemone against other clownfish.

Clownfish are omnivorous and can adapt their diet based on their environment. Their powerful jaws allow them to eat invertebrates like shrimp, worms, anemone tentacles, and mollusks.

Clownfish Reproduction

Clownfish are unique in that they are sequential hermaphrodites, meaning they develop first as males and can switch sex later. Usually, the largest fish in a group is the female, and the second largest is the breeding male. 

The breeding process begins with the female laying eggs on a flat surface near the anemone, usually a rock. She lays 100-1000 eggs at a time, often in batches over several days. The male fertilizes them by passing over the eggs and releasing sperm. 

The female diligently tends the eggs, fanning them with her fins and removing any dead or infected ones to give the healthy eggs a greater chance of survival. The eggs are protected and guarded until they hatch approximately one week later.

Clownfish Egg Care

Clownfish form monogamous breeding pairs that are essential for protecting the eggs. The male fertilizes eggs once the female lays eggs on a flat surface. The female then lays a few hundred more eggs over the next week until there are thousands of eggs. 

The male clownfish guards and cares for the eggs until they hatch. He uses his fins to fan fresh, oxygenated water over the eggs and remove debris or dead eggs. This constant fanning is critical for the embryos to develop properly.

The male diligently guards the eggs, rarely leaving them. He may eat very little during this time. The incubation period lasts about a week until the eggs finally hatch.

Once the tiny larvae emerge, they become free-swimming within a few days and are ready to feed independently. They receive no parental care after hatching.

This dedicated egg guarding by the male clownfish allows the female to recover strength before the next spawning cycle.

During this time, the female reabsorbs any unfertilized eggs. After two weeks, the pair is ready to repeat the spawning process. They can continue this cycle many times over during the breeding season.

Do Clownfish Eat Their Eggs?

Clownfish put a lot of effort into caring for their eggs and will diligently tend to them until they hatch. Generally, clownfish parents do not eat their eggs. 

Clownfish form monogamous breeding pairs and invest significant time and energy preparing to spawn. The male fans and aerates the eggs, while the female maintains vigilance and defends the nest site.

Both parents meticulously tend to the eggs, removing any dead or fungus-infected eggs to give the healthy eggs the best chance of survival. 

Eating their eggs would go against clownfish reproductive behaviors and instincts. Once the female lays a clutch of eggs, the parents switch to a caretaking role and focus on giving their offspring the highest chance of survival. They protect the eggs until they hatch in 6-8 days.  

In sporadic cases, clownfish may eat a few eggs from a clutch, but this is not typical behavior. It may occur if the parents feel the clutch is not viable or if there is a lack of available food.

However, clownfish parents are generally highly motivated to care for their eggs until they successfully hatch. They do not view the eggs as a food source and will not intentionally consume their spawn.

Clownfish Parental Care

Clownfish display a unique form of parental care that is uncommon among other fish. There is a clear division of labor between the male and female parents to ensure the eggs and fry are well protected.

The female clownfish is solely responsible for laying and caring for the eggs. She will find a suitable nest near anemones and carefully clean the surface before depositing up to 400 eggs in a clutch. The eggs are sticky, so they adhere to the nest surface. 

Once the eggs are laid, the female vigorously fans them with her fins to oxygenate them and remove debris.

She will tend to the nest constantly, nipping at the eggs to remove any fungus or dead eggs. The male clownfish guards the perimeter, warding off predators and intruders.

After about a week, the eggs will hatch into tiny clownfish larvae. At this stage, the female’s parenting duties continue.

She attentively scoops the fry back into the nest if they wander too far. The male continues his guarding behavior, now focused on protecting the vulnerable fry. 

The fry remains closely associated with the nest and parents until after a couple of weeks, when they have absorbed their egg sacs and become free-swimming juvenile clownfish. The parents will offer protection even as juveniles until the clownfish are mature adults.

Clownfish Fry Development

Clownfish eggs hatch approximately 7-8 days after being laid. The newly hatched fry emerges looking very different from the colorful adults.

The fry is transparent with no distinct markings. They also have a large yolk sac attached to their bellies, providing nourishment in the early stages until they can hunt for food independently. 

Within a few days of hatching, the yolk sac is completely absorbed, and the fry begins actively hunting and feeding.

At this stage, they start to develop more coloration and the beginnings of distinct clownfish markings. However, the fry is still very small, about 5-7 millimeters long.

It takes about 6-8 weeks for the clownfish fry to mature from the size of a rice grain into a juvenile that resembles an adult clownfish. They reach sexual maturity in 6-12 months.

The growth rate depends on various factors, including diet, water conditions, tank size if in captivity, and more. Once sexually mature, they can reproduce and lay their own eggs, continuing the clownfish life cycle.

Threats to Clownfish Eggs

Clownfish eggs face several threats in their natural coral reef habitat. The two main categories of threats are predators and environmental factors.


Several reef predators will readily eat clownfish eggs if given the chance. These include:

  • Moray eels – These large reef eels can enter small spaces and will consume clownfish eggs. Their slender bodies allow them to grab eggs from anemones and corals.
  • Coral polyps – The tiny polyps that comprise coral colonies will ingest any eggs that come into contact with them. Clownfish must carefully tend their eggs to prevent them from touching coral.
  • Shrimps – Shrimps are omnivores and will eat clownfish eggs as part of their varied diet. Cleaner shrimps, in particular, may enter the anemone looking for parasites and grab an egg snack.
  • Wrasses – Several species of wrasses are egg predators, able to suck clownfish eggs out from crevices with their tubular mouths. Their constant foraging puts clownfish eggs at risk.
  • Triggerfish – With their crushing teeth, triggerfish can destroy coral to access clownfish egg clutches hidden in cracks and crevices. They are tenacious predators.

Environmental Factors

In addition to predators, clownfish face environmental challenges in protecting their eggs:

  • Strong water currents – Fast-moving water can dislodge egg clutches from their protective anemone or coral hideaway. This leaves them exposed to predators.
  • Temperature changes – Clownfish eggs develop best within a specific temperature range. Changes beyond this range can jeopardize embryo development.
  • Weather damage – Major storms, particularly typhoons and hurricanes, can cause damage to coral reefs. This eliminates hiding places and exposes clownfish eggs.
  • Anemone bleaching – When stony coral colonies bleach from stress, so do anemones. This causes them to eject the clownfish, leaving eggs suddenly vulnerable.

Clownfish eggs are highly vulnerable in reef environments and require diligent parental care to reach hatching. Predators and environmental factors constantly threaten the next generation.

Clownfish in Captivity

Clownfish are extremely popular in the saltwater aquarium hobby due to their bright colors and hardy nature.

However, breeding clownfish in a home aquarium can be challenging. In the wild, clownfish hatch rates are typically 80-90%. However, the rates are much lower in captivity at around 10-50%. 

There are a few key reasons why breeding clownfish is difficult in an aquarium environment:

  • Water quality  – Clownfish eggs are susceptible to water conditions. Any fluctuations in temperature, pH, salinity, or nitrogen levels can cause problems with development. Maintaining excellent and stable water quality is crucial but challenging in a small, enclosed system.
  • Space constraints – Clownfish need plenty of room in the tank for mating rituals and laying eggs. Most home aquariums are too small to accommodate breeding behavior. The male and female will need enough space to establish their territory.
  • Stress – Captive clownfish often deal with more stress than their wild counterparts. Artificial lighting, aquarium maintenance, and human interaction can be stressful. The parents may frequently abandon the eggs due to the stress.
  • Disease – Aquarium-bred fish have a higher risk of developing diseases. Pathogens can infect the eggs and prevent them from developing properly. Good quarantine practices for new fish can reduce, but not eliminate, this risk.

Dedication to excellent water quality, a sufficiently large tank, and close monitoring make it possible to breed clownfish successfully in captivity.

However, a high level of care and diligence is required to achieve hatch rates comparable to those of wild populations. While challenging, breeding clownfish can be very rewarding for the home aquarium.

Conservation Status

Despite being one of the most popular marine fish in the aquarium trade, clownfish are not currently considered endangered or threatened in the wild. However, some localized populations face potential threats. 

The main threat to clownfish is habitat degradation, especially on coral reefs, which the fish rely on. Factors like climate change leading to coral bleaching, pollution, destructive fishing practices, and coastal development all damage or destroy coral reef habitats. Loss of reefs removes clownfish breeding sites and food sources.

Like Clark’s anemonefish, clownfish species with more minor, localized distributions face higher risks. Clark’s anemonefish is classified as vulnerable, with declining populations due to overcollection in the aquarium trade and habitat loss within its range. 

While not yet endangered or threatened overall, clownfish’s dependence on fragile coral reefs means they will be vulnerable if conservation efforts are not made. Monitoring of populations, protection of reef habitats, and management of collection practices will be important for the future of these iconic fish.


Clownfish have a fascinating and complex reproductive cycle. The male clownfish is responsible for caring for and guarding the eggs until they hatch. He uses his fins to diligently fan and clean the eggs, keeping them safe from potential predators. 

The male clownfish does not eat the eggs during this egg care stage. Instead, he focuses all his energy on protecting his future offspring. Eating the eggs would go against the solid parental instincts of the clownfish.

Once the eggs hatch, the tiny clownfish larvae continue to develop under the watchful eye of their father. After about a week, they become free-swimming juvenile clownfish. At this stage, they are released into the sea anemone and begin an independent life.

Clownfish’s dedicated parental care ensures that the next generation survives and thrives. This reproductive strategy has served clownfish well as they continue to populate coral reefs worldwide. With proper habitat conservation, clownfish should be able to maintain stable populations.

Though they may look simple, clownfish have an intricate reproductive process that relies on the care and protection of their parents. Their dedication to their young is a testament to the amazing diversity of life in Earth’s oceans.

Recent Posts