Why Clownfish Eat Their Own Eggs (+ How to Protect Them)

If you’re trying to breed clownfish, you may have looked into your tank and noticed fewer clownfish than you had before.  This might have you wondering…

In general, clownfish will eat any eggs that are infertile, damaged, growing fungus, or are otherwise unviable.  This helps protect the other eggs from being killed by bacteria and fungus growing on the unviable ones.  For their first few spawnings, they may eat all their eggs.

Let’s discuss this in a bit more detail and talk about how to give your baby clownfish the best chance of surviving to adulthood.

Clownfish Removing Bad Eggs | Photo 157488154 / Anemonefish Eggs © Kelpfish | Dreamstime.com

Why Clownfish Eat Their Eggs

As mentioned above, clownfish are likely to eat their eggs if they are unhealthy.  Unhealthy eggs being in the clutch increases the chance that more eggs will become damaged and makes the eggs around the unviable ones less likely to survive.

By eating the eggs, the clownfish parents are increasing the chances of producing healthy fry that survive to adulthood.

If only it were that easy, though!

As with any species that may devour its own young, there are times when this doesn’t happen as intended, and the parents go full-on feast mode.

New Parents

The most likely option for why this might happen is because they’re new parents, and this is their first time spawning.

Clownfish Caring for Eggs | Photo 211517176 / Anemonefish Eggs © Francesco Ricciardi | Dreamstime.com

You have to accept that the first time you try to breed a pair of clownfish, they might go nuts and eat all of their eggs.  This is unfortunate, but it’s part of the breeding process.

They will spawn again in a few weeks, and they will get better about protecting their eggs the more they spawn.  (Mind you, they might eat their eggs the second time as well, but by the third or fourth time you should start getting eggs that survive to hatching.)

Bad Tank Conditions

Another thing that might cause them to eat their eggs is actually a combination of a few factors:

  • Stress – if they don’t feel safe and they’re constantly being stressed out, they might eat their eggs to reclaim the energy and try again when they feel safer.
  • Starvation – same as before, if they’re being underfed and they feel like there aren’t enough resources to go around, they might eat their eggs and wait until there is more food available.

These are just a few of the reasons why a clownfish might eat their own clutch of eggs.  Obviously, it’s hard to say exactly what might set them off since we can’t exactly talk to them and expect an answer.

Clownfish with Eggs | Photo 124687128 / Anemonefish Eggs © Josephine Julian Lobijin | Dreamstime.com

One thing you can do, if you have your clownfish in a tank with other fish, is move them to a separate tank to spawn just to make sure there isn’t anything else in the aquarium trying to eat your clownfish eggs.

How to Protect Your Baby Clownfish

While there is nothing you can do to guarantee your eggs successfully get to hatching, making sure  your clownfish is well fed and doesn’t feel threatened should help.

Beyond that, it’ll just be a matter of going through enough spawning cycles that your clownfish become skilled enough parents to only weed out the bad eggs.

Once they’re babies, however, that is a different story.  As soon as they hatch, the adults will consider them fair game and will eat any of them they can catch.

Because of this, you’ll want to make sure you’re removing the babies from their parents as quickly as possible after they hatch.  (The eggs will typically hatch 10-12 days after being laid, but may be as early as 8 days – depending on the species of clownfish you have.)

The best way to do this may be to keep the parents in a bare tank with a terra cotta flower pot in it to encourage them to lay their eggs inside the pot.  This will allow you to remove all of the eggs just before hatching night.

You’ll know when you need to move them, because their eyes will turn silver (see picture below).  When this happens, they’ll typically hatch within 24 hours and are safe to move.

Clownfish Eggs | Photo 106239226 / Anemonefish Eggs © Ethan Daniels | Dreamstime.com

You could also potentially just remove the parents at this point, depending on which tank you have set aside to raise the fry in.

You can keep the eggs oxygenated with an air stone until they hatch, then start feeding.  (And if you’re using a HOB on the tank, you’ll obviously want to turn it off before they hatch to avoid sucking them up.)

Feeding Your Fry

Raising fry is out of the scope of this article, but I’ll include a brief section here.  For the first week to week and a half, you’ll want to feed live food.  Rotifers are a good choice for this.

After a week and a half of feeding rotifers, you can start transitioning to feeding crushed flake foods.

Feeding live rotifers will give you a much better percentage of your fry that survive to metamorphosis than if you start off feeding dry food.

Clownfish Eggs | Photo 151376303 / Anemonefish Eggs © Josephine Julian Lobijin | Dreamstime.com

Conclusion

Clownfish will eat their eggs for multiple reasons.  Sometimes they’ll eat their eggs because they are unhealthy, growing fungus, or are otherwise dead.  Other times, especially if they are new parents on their first or second spawn, they’ll eat all of their eggs for no reason at all.

If they’re stressed out or are starving for whatever reason, this may also cause them to eat their eggs.

To a certain extent, you’re relying on your clownfish to not eat their eggs up to the night of hatching, because you need them to pick out the bad eggs to keep the rest of the clutch healthy.  You will want to remove the parents from the eggs or move the eggs to another tank as soon as the eyes turn silver, though, to keep the parents from eating the freshly hatched fry.

This will give your clownfish babies the best chance of survival.  Beyond that, it’s just experience and a little luck.  Keep trying, and eventually you’ll get your first successful breeding attempt.