Marine Fish for Aquarium

Greetings reader, Welcome to the special article on saltwater fish for aquariums!

What are the main marine fish?
What do seawater fish need?
What saltwater fish do you recommend?

If you want information about fish in general, you can click on the previous link. If you want to know a little more about marine water fish, continue reading.

Marine fish live in diverse and delicate ecosystems, and are found throughout the world.

Not only can saltwater fish be seen swimming among the world’s coral reefs, but they are also popular in many homes and more and more people are enjoying keeping their own marine fish aquariums.

The first tropical marine aquariums were only for fish, Clownfish, Damsels and Pomacanthids. They were a little more complicated than the freshwater ones because, being in an environment as stable as the sea, marine fish are a little more sensitive to changes.

There is also the addition that the sea must be recreated, with its concentration of salts. The most common is to add prepared salts to fresh water.

A slope of the marine aquarium is the reef aquarium, where live rock and other invertebrates are given prominence.

Marine water fish

It often happens to most aquarium enthusiasts that they are very attracted to seawater fish. Their beautiful colors and intriguing behaviors seduce most aquarium hobbyists.

If you are starting a saltwater fish tank, you will need to decide what kinds of inhabitants you want to include and how many. Options include three basic options:

  • Community tank for marine fish only
  • Tank for a single species
  • Coral reef system.

Research the type of aquatic environment you would like to create and take into account your budget, space and available time to dedicate to the hobby before making your choice.

Our aspiration as aquarists, fish keepers, is to be able to create an underwater world in which the marine fish we select can easily adapt and develop.

Fish that have been bred in captivity or in tanks will more easily adapt to life under the constraints of an aquarium.

You may also be interested in taking a look at our special article on cold water fish for aquariums by clicking on the link.

Marine fish for aquarium

At we want to help you populate your new tank with beautiful marine fish that will make your hobby an immediate success. That’s why we’ve highlighted some of the easiest saltwater fish to care for.

1. Clownfish

It is also called anemone fish because it has the ability to take refuge in the poisonous tentacles of anemones and form an ongoing symbiotic relationship.

Another peculiarity of the clownfish is that, even when placed in a large aquarium, once it has established its territory, it rarely strays from that area. If he makes his home in one corner of a 1 meter long tank, he will almost never be seen at the other end of the tank.

Clownfish make a fantastic addition to a saltwater aquarium with their bright color pattern and flowing fins that appear to be dancing.

Most have a peaceful disposition, although some species can become aggressive.

A wide variety of clownfish are captive bred and available to hobbyists, and they are fairly easy to find. Also, having been raised in the tank, they will be used to hand feeding and acclimatize very well.

Crossbreeding has led to some interesting color patterns that have increased the popularity of these marine fish. And if you buy a young male and female, they will easily become a couple and mate.

▪️ percola clownfish

The black and white color variation of the percula clownfish is only found in the wild in the waters near Darwin, Australia.

The ocellaris clownfish is often confused with the percula clownfish. Unless you have experience with both marine fish, it is difficult to tell them apart.

True percula is a very bright orange, while ocellaris tends towards a slightly duller color. The percula clownfish also has a thicker black outline and white stripes on the body.

Their beautiful colors and friendly personalities make them a wonderful addition to reef aquariums.

2. Damsel fish

Damsels are also easy to feed as they easily adapt to eating dry flake food.

These fish grow to 5 centimeters or less and are very active swimmers, requiring a lot of open space.

Although they can be kept in groups, be aware that damselfish are very territorial and can be aggressive towards other fish. You have to provide them with little corners to hide in the rock.

▪️ Green Damsel

Although the Green Damsel (Chromis viridis), also called Castañuela belongs to the damsel family, unlike its cousins, it seems to get along with almost all non-aggressive marine fish.

It also does not bother corals or other invertebrates. Green Damsels readily eat tank foods and adapt very well to marine aquarium life.

▪️ Yellowtail Damsel

The Yellowtail Damselfish (Chrysiptera parasema) also gets along with most non-aggressive fish.

The Yellow-tailed Damsel is a favorite of marine fish tank enthusiasts as it is extremely hardy and spectacularly colored.

Unlike other damselfish, it usually leaves corals or other invertebrates alone. The yellow-tailed damselfish readily eats food in the tank and adapts very well to tank life.

3. Dwarf Angelfish

While angelfish can get quite large, dwarf angelfish are an appropriate size for most marine aquariums.

However, these marine fish display a range of aggressive behavior, so be sure to do your research before purchasing. In most cases, it’s probably best to only have a single species of dwarf angels.

▪️ Coral Beauty Angelfish

The colorful coral beauty angelfish (Centropyge bispinosa), also commonly called the two-spined angelfish, is a popular dwarf angelfish that easily acclimates to aquarium life.

It is a highly valued species for aquariums due to its bright colors, resistance, low price and availability.

This fish is not normally as aggressive as other angelfish, but some individuals can be territorial in smaller aquariums, particularly if they have been in the tank for some time.

▪️ Fire Angelfish

The Fire Angelfish (Centropyge loriculus), also called Flame Angelfish or Japanese Pygmy Angelfish, is considered one of the best options for marine aquariums because it adapts well to captivity. It is best kept alone or in pairs, and with other less aggressive marine fish.

Although considered a fairly good and reef-safe fish, it can nibble on large polypedal, zoanthid stony corals, tridacnid clam mantles, and even some soft coral polyps.

Therefore, this fish cannot be completely trusted if these invertebrates are present.

4. Goby fish

Some gobies form a symbiotic relationship with invertebrates such as shrimp. They share a burrow where they will both act as «lookouts» for each other.

Gobies have a wide variety of colors, with some changing color and pattern from juvenile to adult.

▪️ Dart Goby Fish

They are related to gobies but swim in the middle level of the tank instead of hiding in crevices.

Dart fish are quite active and can become aggressive towards others, so keep only one dart per 100 liters of water.

▪️ Fire dart goby

The fire dart goby (Nemateleotris magnifica), also called the sword goby, is a very docile fish.

It should be kept separately, unless the tank is very large or it is introduced to the tank as part of a pair.

This fish is very shy and will not come out of hiding unless it feels safe. This marine fish is also known to jump out of a tank when startled, so a covered tank is best.

▪️ Orange-spotted goby

The Orange-spotted Goby (Amblyeleotris guttata) spends its time gobbling up sand and spitting it out through its gills, sifting the food as it goes.

This is a great litter cleaner that will keep your substrate free of uneaten food and other debris. Their diet should be supplemented with a variety of live and frozen brine shrimp, mysis shrimp, live black worms, and prepared carnivore foods.

▪️ Striped goby

The Striped Goby (Amblygobius phalaena) uses shallow burrows in the aquarium substrate for shelter, keeping the substrate well oxygenated.

It is rarely aggressive towards other marine fish, however it is territorial, and will fight with others of the same species unless they are a mate. Like most gobies, this fish has been known to jump out of open aquaria.

▪️ Diamond goby

The diamond goby (Valenciennea puellaris), like other gobies, stirs up the sand as it sifts it, filtering out the food.

These marine fish will clean the sand bed, removing any microfauna, copepods, and also beneficial bacteria that the tank may need.

While the diamond goby is peaceful and will not harm any other fish, it can become territorial when paired with similar sandblasters.

▪️ Pink Singapore goby

The Pink Singapore Goby (Cryptocentrus leptocephalus) spends its time sifting sand to remove small food particles.

It requires an aquarium of 100 liters or more with lots of loose coral debris, ample room to swim, and a sandy bottom to burrow.

Rarely aggressive towards other marine fish, however, it is territorial, and will fight with others of the same species unless they are a mate. This goby will also jump out of a tank, so a marine tank lid is recommended.

▪️ Yellow goby

The yellow goby (Cryptocentrus cinctus), also called watchman goby, is the most purchased goby fish for marine aquariums.

This species of marine fish is well adapted to aquarium life and has even spawned in reef aquaria. Only male-female yellow goby pairs should be placed in the same tank (especially a small one) as these gobies will attack other gobies.

This saltwater fish should be fed a variety of foods, including fresh or frozen mysid shrimp, enriched brine shrimp, finely chopped table shrimp, and frozen carnivore foods. This fish must be fed at least twice a day.

5. Hawkfish

Hawkfish are carnivorous marine fish, however they are not known to be aggressive. They tend to be solitary and do not interact much with other marine fish.

Being carnivorous, they eat frozen shrimp, but they are not predators in the aquarium. Still, they can annoy the crustaceans if they aren’t eating enough.

For added safety, hawkfish are not recommended for tanks with ornamental shrimp or other invertebrates.

▪️ Red Hawkfish

However, like most hawkfish, it is a bottom-dwelling predator. It likes to sit atop rocks or coral to keep watch, ready to pounce on any unsuspecting prey that swims too close.

In a reef tank, this fish will most likely take up residence on a hard coral head, perching on top when at ease, and hiding inside the coral head when threatened. It can also take refuge near the base or under the tentacles of a large anemone.

Red Hawkfish usually get along quite well with other marine water fish, but can act aggressively towards other bottom-dwelling species. In a small tank this can present a problem, so avoid other bottom dwellers or provide this fish with plenty of space and hiding places to ease territorial conflicts.

▪️ Longnose Hawkfish

It occasionally eats ornamental shrimp and may attack other fish with elongated bodies such as dart gobies. It will also eat almost any other fish that can fit in its mouth.

Longnose Hawkfish can be kept in male and female pairs, but they must be introduced to the tank at the same time. This fish is well known for jumping out of open tanks, so cover your tank with a lid.

6. Surgeonfish

The well-known surgeonfish is made up of numerous marine species of tropical fish, with a laterally compressed body.

Surgeonfish have a single dorsal fin and one or more distinctive, sharp spines on either side of the tail base that can produce deep cuts.

Surgeon fish are mostly algae eaters. They develop from a transparent larva and, with growth, can change considerably in shape or color. Its maximum length does not usually exceed 50 cm.

▪️ Blue surgeonfish

The fry can be kept together in groups, but the adults will fight unless given ample swimming space and shelter.

This species is prone to fish white spot disease (ich), and is susceptible to head and lateral line erosion like most surgeonfish.

Unlike most surgeonfish, which require a steady diet of algae, Pacific blue surgeonfish must also be fed meaty foods to meet their zooplankton dietary needs.

Finely chopped fresh or frozen shrimp, mysid shrimp, brine shrimp, and herbivore mixes are suitable foods, as is nori (dried seaweed).

▪️ Yellow Surgeonfish

The Yellow Surgeonfish (Zebrasoma flavescens) is one of the most popular fish for a saltwater aquarium.

In general, this fish gets along well with other fish in an aquarium, but can be aggressive towards other yellow tangs and surgeon fish if they are not introduced to the aquarium at the same time.

If the size of your tank allows you to include several of these marine fish, it will be very entertaining to watch their “follow the leader” patterns through the rock structures of the aquarium.

▪️ Golden Eye Surgeonfish

However, don’t put one in a small reef tank, as it can do a lot of damage if you have delicate plants growing and algae you want to keep.

In a large reef tank, plant growth may pick up, as the Golden-eyed Surgeonfish will be spoiled for choice.

This marine fish is well suited to tank food. It likes nori (dried seaweed), flake foods made from dried seaweed, and will nibble on some meaty foods such as dried shrimp and bloodworms.

▪️ Orange Spine Unicornfish

The Orange Spine Unicornfish (Naso lituratus) is a marine fish that, once accustomed to aquarium life, has a big personality. It can even be trained to eat food from your hand.

It is one of the most aggressive surgeonfish species when it comes to territorial disputes with other surgeonfish, especially its own species, but generally gets along with other tankmates and invertebrates.

It is striking that they attack each other considering that in nature they tend to congregate in small groups or schools.

7. Butterfly fish

Butterfly fish are found among tropical reefs around the world, but are concentrated in the Indo-Pacific ocean region.

Butterfly fish have a laterally compressed body, with a single dorsal fin and a small mouth with tiny teeth. The mandibles sometimes extend into a relatively long snout.

Most species of butterfly fish have strong, prominent spines at the front of their dorsal fins. Butterfly fish are small, rarely exceeding a length of about 20 cm, and are very brightly coloured.

Black and yellow tones predominate, and the markings are usually in the form of dark bands and one or more large spots (ocelli) on the dorsal or posterior region that serve to confuse predators.

Butterflyfish typically frequent shallow coastal waters, where they feed on a variety of crustaceans and coral polyps.

▪️ Auriga butterfly fish

The auriga butterflyfish (Chaetodon auriga), also called the fringed-finned butterflyfish, is one of the easiest to care for in a marine fish tank. It needs numerous places to hide, and will do well in a non-aggressive tank.

The biggest drawback with this fish is getting it to eat the food in the tank. Offering the frozen mysis shrimp seems to get them started.

Also, if other marine fish in the tank are eating certain foods, the charioteer seems to better assimilate the fact that the food is edible.

▪️ Raccoon butterflyfish

The raccoon butterflyfish (Chaetodon lunula), also called the masked butterflyfish or moonfish, is another of the easiest saltwater fish to keep. Given the abundance of places to hide, it will settle in a non-aggressive tank.

Like its cousin, the auriga butterflyfish, a big hurdle for this fish is getting it to eat tank food. Watch fish eating in a fish tank before you buy it. Frozen mysis shrimp are a good choice for tank feeding.

8. Jeweled Blenid

The jeweled blenny fish (Salarias fasciatus), also known as the lawnmower blenny. It is a tropical marine reef fish that is found most of the time perched on a rock.

This blenny is a strong algae eater, which is a benefit to any saltwater aquarium.

In new tanks there is a tendency to grow a lot of algae as nitrate levels increase. The jeweled blenny helps keep algae under control as the tank matures.

9. Red Lionfish

The Red Lionfish (Pterois volitans), also known as the Common Lionfish, prefers to spend most of its time in open areas.

It is quite long-lived and also grows large, being able to measure up to 35 centimeters, so it needs to have a large tank. This fish will consume small marine fish and shrimp (whatever fits in its mouth), so its companions must be larger.

Lionfish bones contain a powerful toxin that can cause a very painful or fatal sting if you are allergic. Handle this marine fish with great caution.

Keep in mind that if it bites something in your tank, the poison released into the water can be deadly to other fish and invertebrates.

10. Triggerfish

In the wild, each triggerfish (Odonus niger) has its own home, part of the coral and rock formations just outside the reef.

They emerge and congregate near the surface of the water in large schools to feed on zooplankton and algae that flow with the current.

In a closed environment with other triggerfish, they will bite and attack each other. This is a saltwater fish that can be aggressive towards more docile marine fish and aquarium inhabitants.

11. Fridman’s Dwarf Perch

Fish known as Fridman’s pygmy perch (Pseudochromis fridmani) or orchid castanet, are attractive goldfish with big personalities.

They are active swimmers and can jump, so make sure to cover the top of their tank with a lid.

Fridman ‘s dwarf perch is a carnivorous fish that can be aggressive towards others; make sure his tank has plenty of hiding places for other marine fish.

These fish are hardy and are becoming more available as captive bred fish.

12. Cardinal fish

The cardinal fish (Pterapogon kauderni) is more interesting than it seems at first glance.

Cardinals are mouthbrooders, meaning that the male carries the eggs in his mouth and does not eat for weeks while carrying the eggs.

Very often the eggs are consumed by the cardinal fish itself or by other fish.

Cardinal fish tend to be more active when the aquarium lights are off.

Characteristics of marine fish

We are now going to see the main characteristics of marine fish. If you want to go deeper, you can see in the following link the main characteristics of the fish in general.

▪️ Marine fish habitat

Most saltwater fish need to live in water with a temperature between 21 and 26 degrees, a pH level of 8.2 to 8.3, a salt content between 1.022 and 1.025, and an alkalinity level of 3.0.

▪️ Food categories

Saltwater fish can be herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores.

  • Herbivores, such as surgeonfish , live on plant material such as algae and seaweed.
  • Carnivores, such as sharks , feed on a variety of fish and invertebrates.
  • Omnivores, such as clownfish , feed on both plants and animals.

▪️ Common diseases

Bacterial diseases are the most common ailment of saltwater fish and can damage organs or cause skin and gills to rot.

There are also many parasites that can be deadly, including fish lice, which attach to marine fish near their fins.

Flukes, which are microscopic parasites that attach to the body of fish. And the white spot, a parasite that multiplies in fish very quickly, causing the fish to isolate themselves.

Some of these conditions can be treated with conditioners such as malachite and formalin.

Special needs of saltwater fish

As with freshwater fish, marine fish have special needs based on the ecosystem they come from.

While there are many species of saltwater fish that do well in a community tank, some marine fish such as seahorses should be kept in single-species aquariums.

The coral reef system is the most demanding. Corals have specific aquarium light requirements, water flow requirements, and additional water chemistry needs.

Larger size tanks allow better control of water fluctuations than smaller tanks.

Marine fish are recommended for a saltwater tank that is 100 liters or larger. Most of these fish are suitable for a fish community only.

Guide to buy marine fish

Buying saltwater fish for your newly set up aquarium can be very exciting. Starting with a healthy marine fish means a better chance of keeping a saltwater aquarium of happy and healthy fish.

Saltwater fish carry so many pathogens that it only takes a period of stress for the pathogens to take hold and make the fish sick.

Here are some helpful guidelines to make sure your marine fish purchase is the right one.

Saltwater fish and invertebrates in a retail store come from nature (with very few exceptions).

If the price seems surprising, consider all the costs involved in the process of capturing, loading, and holding them at wholesalers/importers.

The saltwater fish, too, had been through a very stressful time. So remember this when shopping for saltwater fish.

▪️ How to find a distributor

Use the two or three weeks you have while cycling your aquarium to visit aquarium stores in your area.

Talk to a salesperson who is knowledgeable on the subject, though this can be really hard to find.

Try it! Most dealers are usually quite small, one-man businesses. And they usually don’t ask for money for their advice.

The selected distributor must commit to selling healthy saltwater fish and invertebrates. Look for a specialty aquarium store and not just a pet store with one or two aquariums in the back of the store.

It should be clean, with a good selection of marine fish and equipment. The provider should also be prepared to tell you the names of their providers. Once you’ve found a dealer, stick with them.

▪️ Buy healthy saltwater fish

Always check if there are dead or dying fish in the aqu

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