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Why is My Clownfish Losing its Color?

When you think of clownfish, the image that often springs to mind is that of a brightly colored red, orange, or yellow fish with white and black details. In fact, it’s their vibrant hues which often draw aquarium hobbyists to this species in the first place! But what does it mean when clownfish fail to keep their bright, brilliant appearance?

Loss of color in clownfish is likely a nutritional issue. If you purchased a tank-raised clownfish from a pet store, it was likely being fed a color-enhancing food. If you don’t continue to feed it that specific edible, it’ll gradually lose its vibrant hues over time. Another reason could be the water conditions. If the temperature is too cold, the pH is ‘off’, the oxygen level is too low, or the ammonia amount is too high, clownfish color may start to fade.

Now that you know there’s more than one reason why clownfish lose their coloring, let’s dive deeper into this topic. In this article, I’ll explain how and why oxygen, sunlight, water, and food all attribute to fish coloring. I’ll also discuss what it means when clownfish ‘turn white’ and how to treat the issue. I’ll even clarify why clownfish appear paler at night as opposed to during the day and how artificial tank lighting affects coloration.

So, if you’re ready to learn more about clownfish and how to keep them healthy and vibrant looking, then let’s continue onward…

Why are My Clownfish Losing their Color?

There are different reasons why clownish lose their vibrant coloring. In the case of tank-raised fish, the cause if often attributed to food. Pet shops will sometimes feed clownfish specially manufactured, color-enhancing flakes. If you don’t know what type of food it is nor have access to it, then clownfish coloring will start to fade quickly when it’s no longer receiving that specific nutriment.

Another reason why clownfish coloring fades may be due to their water conditions. If the temperature in the aquarium is too cold or the pH level is ‘off’, then the result could be a loss of color vibrancy. As well, if the amount of ammonia in the tank is too high, this too can negatively affect both the health and physical appearance of your fish.

Why is My Clownfish Turning White?

The main cause of clownfish ‘turning white’ is Brooklynella. This disease is common among marine fish and the result of a parasite. The symptoms range from lethargy to gasping for air and can be deadly if not medicated promptly and completely. The most effective treatment for Brooklynella is formalin – a formaldehyde solution with added methanol for stability.

Why Do Clownfish Look Paler at Night?

Inadequate tank lighting is often the reason why clownfish look pale at night. As well, when fish rest and their metabolism ‘slows down’ in the evening, their typically vibrant hues can appear less bright. This is normal and generally not cause for concern, unless accompanied by other factors such as sloughing or shedding of skin, sluggishness, respiratory problems, and/or loss of appetite.

false percula clownfish

Does Age Affect Clownfish Coloring?

Agedness can cause clownfish to lose their color. As the fish grows, chromatophores – which are responsible for physical coloring and appearance – are spread out over a larger area, becoming less dense. This can result in a paler or less vibrant hue over time. If the clownfish suffers from other health issues related to advancing age, it may also appear lighter in color.

Does Stress Affect Clownfish Coloring?

Stress, whether it be from illness, bullying, or poor water conditions will ultimately affect clownfish health and coloring. Abrupt changes in aquatic environment (including pH fluctuations, increased toxicity or ammonia ‘spikes’, and the introduction of new fish to the tank) is the most likely culprit. Checking your water chemical levels regularly and correctly them immediately if ‘off’, is the best course of action.

Can Clownfish Change Color?

A juvenile clownfish can change color as an adult. Should the fish change sex from male to female – which is common with hermaphroditic clownfish in captivity – it may also change color, appearing darker than before. As the clownfish ages and approaches the end of its life cycle, it usually turns from orange, red, or yellow with white and/or black details to all-black when it dies.

How to Prevent Clownfish from Losing their Color?

To prevent clownfish from losing their vibrancy, keep their aquatic environment as clean as possible. Since water parameters are key to fish health, make sure to do daily filter, temperature, pH, and specific gravity checks. As well, perform bi-weekly partial water changes by removing at up to 15% of the liquid and replacing it with fresh, treated water (depending on how heavily stocked the aquarium is).

Since artificial aquarium lighting can also affect clownfish coloring, try to reduce the number of hours the lights are on during the day and provide fish with hiding places. Too-bright lights can cause stress to fish which is why it’s best to limit their exposure to 8-hours only per day. Opting of a multi-spectrum LED aquarium light with an ambient or moonlight feature is recommended.

Yet another possible cause of clownfish color fading is lack of oxygen in the tank. If there isn’t enough circulation of O2 throughout the water, clownfish can become stressed and lose their vibrancy. To keep this from happening, try increasing surface agitation or water movement by adding an additional filter, attaching a spray bar the filter’s outlet, installing an air pump, or using air stones in the aquarium.

How to Enhance Clownfish Coloring?

The best way to enhance clownfish coloring is to feed them food that contains astaxanthin or carotene. This is what breeders usually feed their tank-raised fish to keep them looking healthy and bright. While astaxanthin and carotene are especially good for orange-colored fish, it’ll also work for red and yellow clowns, though otohime pellets or TDO are better.

If your clownfish are so inclined, you can also feed them small bite-sized pieces of spinach, broccoli, or romaine lettuce. Not only do these vegetables contain healthy sources of vitamins and minerals, but they also help naturally enhance fish coloring and appearance.

In addition, a variety of both plant- and meat-based foods is recommended since clownfish are omnivorous in nature.

Does Seaweed Enhance Clownfish Coloring?

In addition to vegetables and other plant-based foods, seaweed (nori, in particular) is good for naturally enhancing clownfish coloring.

In fact, seaweed is one of the few foods that helps amplify a full spectrum of fish hues, depending on the type and color of both the fish and the seaweed itself. For example, blue and green seaweed helps enhance blue, purple, and green fish coloring whereas red or yellow seaweed amplifies yellow, orange, and red fish coloration.


To conclude, clownfish will sometimes appear less vibrant if they’re not fed the proper color-enhancing food. As well, if the aquarium water is too cold of the pH level is ‘off’, this too can alter fish coloring. Tank lighting, advancing age, changing gender, parasitic disease, ammonia poisoning, and stress are yet other examples of why a clownfish may lose its brightness.

The pigmentation of a clownfish often reflects its overall state of health. Hence why it’s so important to monitor its daily activity, keep its tank clean, and ensure its eating enough of the ‘right’ food. Loss of color isn’t always cause for concern, provided your clownfish is still active, eating regularly, and doesn’t appear to be in distress.

I trust this article has answered your questions pertaining to clownfish coloring and/or lack thereof. Thanks for reading and good luck with your aquarium hobby.

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