Facts on Harlequin Clown Fish (Harlequin Sweetlips)

Harlequin sweetlips often inhabit the Indian Ocean.
Harlequin sweetlips often inhabit the Indian Ocean. (Image: David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images)

The harlequin sweetlips (Plectorhinchus chaetodonoides) or clown sweetlips is a family Haemulidae fish who comes from the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Many of these nocturnal fish live out in their native habitats, but they are prevalent in aquariums. Harlequin sweetlips are so named due to their fleshy lips, which are handy for searching for sustenance amid sandy locales.

Physical Appearance

Harlequin sweetlips can grow to 28 inches and 15 pounds. Growth and development are swift for this species. When they're youngsters, their bodies are brown with sizable white blotches all over. The white blotches are encircled in black color. In full maturity, they turn completely white but also develop conspicuous brownish blots that multiply with time.

Living Environment

Harlequin sweetlips in nature reside in tropical water environments. They gravitate toward habitats rich in coral, specifically reefs and lagoons. For the most part, they live independently. In the daytime, harlequin sweetlips usually remain tucked away within caves or in slender openings of rocks. They spend most of their time at depths of 3 feet to 100 feet. As pets in aquarium settings, individuals require big tanks that can hold a minimum of 135 gallons. Since they grow to such large sizes, they should not live with others of their same species. Harlequin sweetlips generally have extremely serene temperaments. They also need to live with fish of gentle natures, so it is important to avoid somewhat pugnacious types like damselfish and triggerfish, especially when they're young. In aquariums, lots of rocks are necessary for hiding.


Free-roaming mature harlequin sweetlips feed predominantly on tiny fish, crustaceans and mollusks. When placed into aquarium settings, these carnivorous fish initially need live sustenance, such as blackworms and ghost shrimp. This is a way of opening them up to eating in the first place. As they get used to their surroundings, you can start to bring in other foods, both fresh and frozen. Harlequin sweetlips can thrive on meaty meal plans that cater to flesh-eating marine fish. Mysis shrimp, krill and flakes all are common foods for harlequin sweetlips. Eating activities take place during the nighttime, so feed them right before you go to bed.

Defense Mechanism for Young Harlequin Sweetlips

Young harlequin sweetlips possess a convenient defense mechanism that enables them to drive away potential predators. When they swim, they do so in wavelike motions, which gives off the impression, colorwise, of harmful flatworms. As adults, harlequin sweetlips stop swimming in this conspicuous manner.

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