Garibaldi Fish (Hypsypops rubicundus): Ultimate Care Guide


Garibaldi Fish, Hypsypops rubicundus, is also known as the Catalina Goldfish and the marine goldfish. It is a bright orange fish with a heart-shaped tail fin. The juvenile Garibaldi Fish will be a deeper color of orange with electric blue spots and blue-trimmed fins. They are the largest fish in the Damselfish family and can grow to be 15 inches long.

Garibaldi Fish are related to the Coral-Reef Damselfish. They swim around through dark-colored reefs and kelp forests at depths around 100 feet. Garibaldi Fish are native to the north-eastern subtropical parts of the Pacific Ocean.

This marine goldfish is the official marine state fish of California and is protected in California’s coastal waters. Garibaldi Fish is a popular aquarium fish, but it cannot be kept in California without a permit. It is illegal to hunt them for food since they have protected status. Thankfully, their populations are currently stable.

Garibaldi Fish are named after an Italian general and political leader, Giuseppe Garibaldi. The general fought for the reunification of Italy and died a national hero. In the 1840s, he became known for wearing bright red shirts. When scientists discovered this territorial orangey-red fish, they decided to name it after the Italian general. 

Due to the large tank size and the Garibaldi Fish’s aggressive nature, they are suggested for intermediate-level aquarists.

Natural Habitat of Garibaldi Fish

The Garibaldi Fish has a fairly restricted range. Their habitat ranges from Monterey Bay, California to Guadalupe Island, Baja California. These fish cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

Their populations are currently stable. Southern California will see more of these marine goldfish than Monterey will since these fish prefer warmer waters.

Garibaldi Fish
Garibaldi Fish (Hypsypops rubicundus)

Predators of Garibaldi Fish

Garibaldi Fish are at risk of becoming a meal for several predators in their natural habitat. They can be eaten by sharks, seals, sea lions, or bald eagles.

Humans are another predator of these brightly colored fish despite their protections under the law. Garibaldi Fish can be caught on a hook accidentally, but they are hunted too. They have a territorial nature that makes them easy prey for anglers or divers.

Garibaldi Fish Adaptations

The bright colors on Garibaldi Fish may be an adaptation telling other fish a warning. This is a signal to intruders or would-be predators that these vividly colored fish are territorial and will vigorously defend their home.

Garibaldi Fish Care

Garibaldi Fish have specific care requirements, and it is important to understand their needs if you decide to keep them. Here are some of their basic care requirements, starting with their temperature and water pH.

Temperature64 – 74° F
Water pH8.1 – 8.4

Garibaldi Fish Size

Garibaldi Fish can grow to be 15 inches long making them the largest fish in the Damselfish family. 

The average size for a Garibaldi Fish is 14 inches. These fish are sexually dimorphic amphibians meaning the males will be larger than the females. The males also have a lobe on the front of their heads that is not found in females.

Garibaldi Tank Size

These sea creatures love to swim, so Garibaldi Fish need a large aquarium of at least 100 gallons. If a Garibaldi is put in a smaller tank, the adult fish could hurt itself by running into the glass. The fish would prefer a 180-gallon tank or more, but 100 will work if there is only one Garibaldi. They will need plenty of live rock for shelter, hiding, and exploring. 

Garibaldi Fish are highly territorial and aggressive. If there are any other fish in the tank, 100 gallons will not be big enough. Garibaldi Fish are extremely aggressive towards their own kind. It is probably best to only have one Garibaldi Fish per tank. 

Garibaldi Fish Food and Diet

Garibaldi Fish eat a variety of foods around its rocky home on the California coast. They eat sponges, algae, tubeworms, nudibranchs, and bryozoans. Scientists believe the Garibaldi Fish’s diet of sponges may be part of the reason it is so brightly colored.

Garibaldi Fish Lifespan

The average lifespan for a Garibaldi Fish ranges from 12 to 17 years. Some reports say these fish have been recorded to live for as long as 25 years.

Garibaldi Tank Setup

Garibaldi Fish are easier to keep when they are young, but grow to be large in size and aggression. They do not like sharing space with their own species and should only be kept with other large, equally belligerent fish who will defend themselves.

These marine goldfish are hardy, reef-safe creatures. They need to be kept in a tank of at least 100 gallons. If there are any other tank mates, the size of the tank needs to be increased.

They need territory to claim as their own, so the tank should have plenty of live rock. Do not overdo it, but give them a place to protect, hide in, and explore. They are very active swimmers and will pop up to the surface for food when it becomes comfortable in the tank.

Garibaldi Fish are durable, but they can get sick if they are exposed to the wrong water conditions for too long. The Damselfish needs regular water changes, feedings several times a day, and the proper tank mates (if any) to stay happy and healthy.

Regular water changes are crucial for the health of this fish, but they do not have to be done very often. One expert recommendation says, “If kept in a large reef tank of 100 gallons or more, with water that is aged and stable, do partial water changes of 20% to 30% every 6 weeks depending on bioload.”

Good filtration and slow circulation are necessary. Garibaldi Fish can handle a pretty strong current if needed but need at least a little circulation in the tank. They prefer their water on the cooler side, between 64 and 74 degrees Fahrenheit.

Garibaldi Fish are most active during the day and will make use of the entire tank. They like to have plenty of open space for swimming. Giving them a cave or sheltering ledge along with rocks and corals is good for them. Juveniles especially need to have plenty of rocks for hiding places.

Garibaldi Fish Breeding

Garibaldi Fish have not been successfully bred in captivity. This might have something to do with how picky female Garibaldi Fish are partnered with the fact these fish do not like being in each other’s company most of the time. Let’s dive into how Garibaldi Fish reproduction happens in the wild.

The work of protecting and raising the eggs falls onto the male’s fins. Like most Damselfish, Garibaldis establish a home territory. When the male Garibaldi becomes an adult, he picks out a stretch of reef and will live there for the rest of his life. A good home will have a nook for shelter and a bunch of rocks. 

When he is ready for babies, the male will clear a sheltered nest site within his territory for the female to deposit the eggs into. He will clean up by removing debris, carrying sea urchins and sea stars away, and biting away all the unnecessary plant growth. He will trim down a few species of red algae to use as a bed for the thousands of eggs he will hopefully soon have.

Now his next job is attracting a female fish. Female Garibaldis who are ready to lay eggs will set off to find good nests. The females are quite choosy about where they lay their eggs, often visiting 15 or more nests before deciding where to leave their eggs. This ritual begins in the spring and lasts until autumn.

Once she makes her decision, the female Garibaldi will swim with all of her fins erect to signal her interest. The male will swim loops around the female while making a thumping sound with his pharyngeal teeth to try and entice her. Once she takes notice of him, he swims to his nest hoping she will follow.

Females do not want to lay eggs in an empty nest. They want a nest with eggs from at least one other female. There can be eggs from up to 20 different females in one male’s nest. This means he wants to attract that first female quickly. Other females will follow the first, sometimes even lining up to lay eggs at a popular nest.

The reproductive challenges for the male Garibaldi are not over yet. The female is also picky about how old the other eggs are in the male’s nest. She likes to lay hers with other freshly laid eggs. Sometimes the male will eat older eggs in the nest in hopes more females will come to lay eggs in the next few days.

There is no long goodbye after the female has laid her eggs. The male chases her away immediately. He then fertilizes the eggs by scattering his sperm over them.

He will then guard the area for 19 to 21 days until the eggs hatch. Garibaldi Fish eggs are tasty food for many predators. The Garibaldi male will probably defend his nest more than once. He is territorial enough that he will boldly attack much larger animals to keep his family safe. There are even reports of Garibaldi Fish biting scuba divers to keep them away from the eggs.

Garibaldi Fish Disease

While Garibaldi Fish are durable, hardy fish, they are susceptible to many diseases found in saltwater environments. The most common problem is stress from inappropriate tank mates.

Parasites are another common problem. Garibaldi Fish are susceptible to Marine Ich Cryptocaryon irritans, Marine Velvet, and Uronema disease. These are all treatable if caught and treated early.

Marine Ich Cryptocaryon irritans, also known as White Spot Disease or Crypt, is the most easily cured.

Marine Velvet, or Velvet Disease Oodinium ocellatum, is one of the most common illnesses seen in marine aquariums. It is a parasitic skin flagellate that is fast-moving and primarily attacks the gills. 

Uronema disease, or Uronema marinum, is usually a secondary infection. However, it should not be taken lightly. It will attack a damselfish quickly and it is lethal. The first symptom to look out for with this disease is a lack of appetite. This parasite does well in mid-level brackish water salinity and typically shows up when the salinity in the tank is lowered to treat another illness, but it is not lowered enough.

Again, Garibaldi Fish are hardy, but they should be treated gingerly. Especially because they are expensive saltwater fish. Anything added to the tank should be properly cleaned or quarantined first. This includes live rock, corals, and fish. They can all introduce disease.

Are Garibaldi Fish Aggressive

Garibaldi Fish are peaceful when they are young, but that changes when they become adults. They start to become more territorial as they get older and have to compete with other fish for habitat.

Garibaldi Fish are aggressive and territorial. They know the exact boundaries of their territory in the wild and can sometimes be seen eating less than two feet away from another fish. As long as each fish stays within its territory, there are no issues. The female fish are less territorial than the males. Possibly because they have no eggs to protect.

They only seem to be territorial when they are in the reef. Garibaldis will sometimes gather above the reef as a way to socialize and choose potential mates.

Garibaldi Fish Tank Mates

These fish are primarily solitary creatures in nature, but can occasionally be found in loose aggregations. They do not do well living in the same tank as other Garibaldi Fish. If other fish are added to the tank, they need to be just as big and aggressive as the Garibaldi Fish.

Garibaldi Fish are considered reef-safe, but they may nip at soft coral and attack ornamental shrimps.

Here are some examples of compatible tank mates for Garibaldi Fish:

  • Large Semi-Aggressive Fish: Tangs, Angels, Wrasses
  • Large Aggressive and Predatory Fish: Lionfish, Groupers, Soapfish
  • LPS corals
  • SPS corals
  • Gorgonians
  • Sea Fans
  • Leather Corals
  • Starfish
  • Feather Dusters
  • Bristle Worms
  • Flatworms
  • Clams
  • Scallops
  • Oysters
  • Copepods
  • Amphipods
  • Mini Brittle Stars

Here are some examples of semi-compatible tank mates for Garibaldi Fish:

  • Dottybacks
  • 6-line and 8-line Wrasse
  • Damselfish
  • Anemones
  • Mushroom Anemones – Corallimorphs
  • Soft Corals
  • Star Polyps
  • Organ Pipe Coral
  • Zoanthids – Button Polyps, Sea Mats

Here are some examples of non-compatible tank mates for Garibaldi Fish:

  • Other Garibaldi Fish
  • Gobies
  • Dartfish
  • Assessors
  • Fairy Wrasses
  • Anthias
  • Clownfish
  • Dwarf Angels
  • Seahorses
  • Pipefish
  • Mandarins
  • Sponges
  • Tunicates
  • Shrimps
  • Crabs
  • Snails

Where can I find Garibaldi Fish for sale?

Garibaldi Fish are rarely sold at retailers, and they can cost quite the pretty penny. Listings online seem to start around the $150 price point, but most places look to be currently out of stock. When they are available online, they will probably be shipped from Mexico.

Are Garibaldi Fish endangered?

Garibaldi Fish are widespread throughout the Eastern Pacific Ocean and do not have any widespread threats. They are on the IUCN Red List as Least Concern. Garibaldi Fish are fully protected in California waters and have been named the official state marine fish. The state has had protections for these fish for more than 60 years now and it is still illegal to take them without a permit.

Are Garibaldi Fish illegal to catch?

It is illegal to remove Garibaldi Fish from their natural habitat. They are protected fish in the United States and Mexico. If they are caught by accident, they need to be returned to the water as soon as possible.  

Are Garibaldi Fish illegal to keep?

It is illegal to collect a Garibaldi Fish without a permit and it is illegal to keep a Garibaldi fish without a permit. 

Are Garibaldi Fish good to eat?

The Garibaldi Fish is a traditional dish in Catalina, where they originated. Some sites say Garibaldi Fish has been listed as a traditional dish at some Pacific Islander weddings too. However, as previously stated, it is illegal to hunt these bright orange fish. Unfortunately, that does not always stop them from being speared illegally.

Summary

Garibaldi Fish are bright orange fish with a heart-shaped tail and a sassy attitude to match. They are native to the coastline of California and are named the state’s official marine fish. They are protected, so it is illegal to hunt or catch them without proper permits. 

Garibaldi Fish are solitary fish that are territorial and aggressive. The male fish take the main parental role when it comes to raising eggs. Females are choosy when picking a nest to lay their eggs, sometimes visiting 15 nests before choosing a mate. The more females who lay eggs in his nest, the more females will want to lay eggs in his nest. There can be up to 20 groups of eggs in one nest at a time. This display might explain why there are no records of successfully breeding this fish in captivity.

They are also picky about who they live with. They need tank mates who are just as large and defensive as they are. They are labeled as intermediate-level fish to keep because of their large size and aggressive behavior.

Fish Laboratory

With decades of collective fishkeeping experience, we are happy to share the fish care tips that we've picked up along the way. Our goal at Fish Laboratory is to keep publishing accurate content to help fishkeepers keep their fish and aquarium healthy.

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