Three Stripe Damsel: Species Profile, Breeding, & Care Guide

| Updated: July 13, 2023
three stripe damsel side profile in front of coral

Do you want a fish that will make your saltwater aquarium stand out with its stunning colors and lively personality? Do you want a fish that will keep you on your toes with its spunky and fearless attitude? Do you want a fish that will not give you too much trouble with its care and maintenance?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you might want to consider the three stripe damsel. This fish is also called the humbug damsel, the white-tailed damselfish, or the black and white damselfish. It belongs to the family Pomacentridae, which includes over 400 species of colorful and diverse fish, such as clownfish, chromis, and anemonefish.

The three stripe damsel is native to the Indo-Pacific region, where it lives in coral reefs and lagoons. It can grow up to four inches in length and has a distinctive pattern of three black vertical bands on a white body, with a fourth black band on the tail. The three stripe damsel is a hardy and adaptable fish that can handle a wide range of water conditions and temperatures. It’s also an omnivorous fish that will eat a variety of foods, including flakes, pellets, frozen foods, and live foods.

This article’ll give you a comprehensive species profile of the three stripe damsel, covering its tank facts, behavior, compatibility, breeding, and more. We’ll also give you some tips on caring for this beautiful fish and keeping it healthy and happy in your saltwater aquarium.

Basic Care Guide

The three stripe damsel is an easy fish to keep in a saltwater aquarium if you provide enough space, water quality, and hiding places. Here are some tank facts that you need to know before you get this fish:

  • The minimum tank size for the three stripe damsel is 30 gallons. However, if you want to keep more than one fish or other tank mates, you’ll need a bigger tank to avoid overcrowding and aggression. Trust me; you won’t like this fish when they’re angry.
  • The ideal water temperature for the three stripe damsel is between 72°F and 78°F. The pH should be between 8.1 and 8.4, and the specific gravity should be between 1.020 and 1.025. These are pretty standard parameters for most saltwater fish, so nothing too complicated here.
  • The three stripe damsel is a reef-safe fish that won’t harm corals or other invertebrates in your tank. However, it may nip at some soft corals or anemones if they’re not well-fed or if they feel threatened. So make sure you feed your fish well and don’t let them get bored or stressed.
  • The three stripe damsel is a territorial and aggressive fish that will defend its space from intruders. It may also chase or harass smaller or more timid fish in your tank. Therefore, keeping it with other moderately aggressive or larger fish that can stand up for themselves is best. You don’t want to put a peaceful goby or a shy blenny with this fish, unless you want to see them get bullied or eaten.
  • The three stripe damsel is an active and curious fish that likes to swim around the tank and explore different corals and rocks. It also likes to have plenty of hiding places where it can retreat when it feels stressed or threatened. You can provide it with live rock, caves, crevices, or artificial decorations that mimic its natural habitat. You can also add some plants or algae for extra cover and color.

Species Overview

Scientific Name
Dascyllus aruanus
Common Names
Three Stripe Damselfish, Humbug Damsel, White-Tailed Damselfish, Black and White Damselfish
Indo-Pacific region, including the Red Sea, the east coast of Africa, and the western Pacific Ocean
Adult Size
Up to 4 inches
Life Expectancy
5-8 years
Minimum Tank Size
30 gallons
Captive Breedable

Three Stripe Damsel Behavior

The three stripe damsel is a social and schooling fish that prefers to live in groups of its own kind or with other similar species of damsels. In the wild, it can form large schools of hundreds or thousands of individuals that swim around coral heads or lagoons.

In captivity, however, it’s not advisable to keep too many three stripe damsels in one tank, as they can become very aggressive and territorial towards each other and other tank mates. A good rule of thumb is to keep one fish per 10 gallons of water, or less if you have other fish in your tank.

The three stripe damsel is also known for its bold and fearless personality. It won’t hesitate to confront larger or more aggressive fish that enter its territory or compete for food. It may also nip at the fins or scales of other fish that annoy it or get too close.

The three stripe damsel can also change its behavior depending on its mood or environment. For example, it may become more aggressive during spawning season or when it feels stressed or threatened by changes in water quality or tank conditions. So make sure you keep an eye on your fish and monitor their behavior and mood.

The three stripe damsel is also a very smart fish that can learn to recognize its owner and respond to feeding cues. It may even come to the surface of the water to greet you or beg for food. Some owners even claim that their fish can do tricks or follow commands. How cool is that?

Compatible Species

The three stripe damsel is not a very compatible fish with most other saltwater fish species. It can be aggressive and territorial towards smaller or more timid fish sharing its tank space. It may also compete for food or resources with other similar species of damsels or clownfish.

It’s best to keep the three stripe damsel with other moderately aggressive or larger fish that can hold their own against its nipping and chasing. Some examples of compatible fish are:

  • Angelfish
  • Butterflyfish
  • Hawkfish
  • Tangs
  • Triggerfish
  • Wrasses

You should also avoid keeping the three stripe damsel with fish that are too similar in appearance or behavior, as they may see them as rivals or threats. Some examples of incompatible fish are:

  • Clownfish
  • Chromis
  • Other species of damsels
  • Blennies
  • Gobies

Three stripe damsels can be kept with clownfish, chromis, gobies, and blennies if the aquarium is large enough. 60 Gallon+ will begin to allow for some mixing of these fish as long as they each pick different spots within the aquarium as “home”.

The three stripe damsel is a reef-safe fish that won’t harm corals or other invertebrates in your tank. However, it may nip at some soft corals or anemones if they’re not well-fed or if they feel threatened. Therefore, you should keep an eye on your corals and make sure they are healthy and secure.

Some examples of corals that can coexist with the three stripe damsel are:

  • Brain corals
  • Mushroom corals
  • Star polyps
  • Zoanthids
  • Leather corals


If you are at all familiar with clownfish breeding you’ll notice this breeding guide is nearly identical. Clownfish and damsels are in the same family, after all!

The three stripe damsel is a prolific and easy-to-breed fish in captivity. It is a sequential hermaphrodite, which means that it can change its sex from male to female or vice versa depending on the social and environmental conditions.

In the wild, the three stripe damsel forms monogamous pairs that spawn regularly during the full moon. The male prepares a nest by clearing a patch of sand or rubble near a coral head or rock. The female then lays hundreds of eggs in the nest, which the male fertilizes and guards until they hatch.

In captivity, you can induce spawning by mimicking the natural conditions of the three stripe damsel. You’ll need a separate breeding tank with a pair of mature fish, live rock, sand, and a heater. You’ll also need to adjust the water temperature, salinity, and lighting to match the lunar cycle.

The breeding tank should have a water temperature of around 80°F, a salinity of 1.024, and a pH of 8.3. The lighting should be on a timer that simulates the day and night cycle, gradually increasing intensity and duration during the full moon phase.

You’ll also need to feed your breeding pair well with high-quality foods, such as brine shrimp, mysis shrimp, bloodworms, and chopped seafood. You can also supplement their diet with vitamins and minerals to enhance their health and fertility.

Once the pair is ready to spawn, they’ll display courtship behaviors, such as swimming together, nipping each other, and rubbing their bodies. The male will then lead the female to his prepared nest and entice her to lay her eggs. The female will lay up to 2000 eggs in batches of 100 to 200, which the male will fertilize immediately.

The male will then guard the nest from predators and aerate the eggs with his fins. The eggs will hatch in about three days depending on the water temperature. The newly hatched larvae will be very tiny and transparent, and will drift in the water column for about two weeks before settling on the substrate.

The larvae must be fed live foods, such as rotifers, copepods, or baby brine shrimp. They’ll also need frequent water changes and careful monitoring of water quality. The larvae will grow quickly and develop their adult coloration and pattern in about six weeks.

Breeding the three stripe damsel can be a rewarding and fascinating experience for any saltwater aquarist. You can witness the amazing process of life from egg to adult, and enjoy watching your own offspring grow and thrive.

Caring For a Three Stripe Damsel

The three stripe damsel is a low-maintenance fish that doesn’t require much care once it’s acclimated to your tank. Perfect for beginners! However, you still need to follow some basic guidelines to ensure its health and happiness.

Here are some tips on how to care for your three stripe damsel:

  • Feed your three stripe damsel twice a day with a varied diet of flakes, pellets, frozen foods, and live foods. You can also offer it some vegetable matter, such as spirulina or nori. This will keep your fish healthy and happy, and prevent them from getting bored or picky with their food.
  • Perform regular water changes of 10% to 20% every week or two to keep the water quality high and stable. This will also help remove any waste or toxins that may accumulate in your tank over time.
  • Test the water parameters regularly and make sure they are within the ideal range for your fish. You can use a test kit or a digital meter to measure the pH, salinity, ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and other parameters. If you notice any fluctuations or imbalances, you can adjust them with water additives or buffers.
  • Provide your three stripe damsel with plenty of hiding places where it can feel secure and comfortable. You can use live rock, caves, crevices, or artificial decorations that mimic its natural habitat. You can also add some plants or algae for extra cover and color. This will also help reduce stress and aggression in your fish, as they will have their own space to retreat when needed.
  • Avoid overstocking your tank or keeping incompatible fish with your three stripe damsel. This will prevent overcrowding and competition for food or resources, which can lead to stress and disease in your fish. It will also prevent aggression and fighting, which can result in injuries or death in your fish.
  • Watch out for signs of stress or disease in your fish, such as loss of appetite, lethargy, faded coloration, or abnormal behavior. If you notice any of these signs, you should isolate your fish in a quarantine tank and treat it accordingly. You can use medications or natural remedies to cure common diseases like ich, fin rot, or bacterial infections. You should also check your water quality and tank conditions to see if there are any problems that need to be fixed.
  • Quarantine any new fish or corals before adding them to your main tank to prevent the introduction of parasites or pathogens. You should keep them in a separate tank for at least two weeks and observe them for any signs of illness or infection. You should also acclimate them slowly and carefully to the water conditions and temperature of your main tank before introducing them.
  • Enjoy watching your three stripe damsel swim around your tank and display its personality and beauty. You can also interact with your fish by feeding them by hand or playing with them with a laser pointer or a mirror. You’ll be amazed by how smart and fun these fish are.

Final Thoughts

The three stripe damsel is an interesting fish that can add some color and a lot of activity to your saltwater aquarium. They dart around everywhere; good luck trying to catch it if you need to. However, it’s also a fish that can be very aggressive and territorial towards other fish and corals. Therefore, you need to be careful when choosing its tank mates and provide it with enough space and hiding places.

We hope you enjoyed this article and learned something new about the three stripe damsel. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below. We’d love to hear from you.

Thank you for reading, and happy fishkeeping!

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