Most Popular Saltwater Fish: Ocean life merely is breathtaking, something that aquarium buffs worldwide strive to recreate in the comfort of their own homes.
However, when setting up a saltwater aquarium, your goal shouldn’t be to mindlessly populate the tank with as many fish as you can find but to create a balanced ecosystem.
As long as you can balance water chemistry, temperature, and diet, the saltwater aquarium should be easy to maintain. You’ve got to learn new ways of improving aquarium husbandry, which can be a tad bit difficult. Some saltwater species are inherently difficult to maintain, such as the Zoster Butterflyfish or the Mustard Guttatus Tang – it’s unethical to buy fish that you know you can’t pet.
Here is our round-up of the 27 best saltwater fish species you can easily find from most aquarium stores near you.
- 1. Clownfish
- 2. Green Chromis
- 3. Wrasses
- 4. Pajama Cardinalfish
- 5. Damselfish
- 6. Blennies
- 7. Coral Beauties
- 8. Tangs – (Yellow, Blue, Kole)
- 9. Diamond Watchman Goby
- 10. Butterflyfish
- 11. Orange Spotted Goby
- 12. Firefish (fire goby)
- 13. Dottyback
- 14. Mollies
- 15. Royal Gramma
- 16. Flame Hawkfish
- 17. Triggerfish
- 18. Blue Reef Chromis
- 19. Four Stripe Damselfish
- 20. Flame Angelfish
- 21. Bicolor Angelfish
- 23. Chalk Bass
- 24. Black Cap Basslet
- 25. Longnose Hawkfish
- 26. Dwarf Lionfish
- 27. Swissguard Basslet
- Wrapping Up: Best Saltwater Aquarium Fish Combination
The Green Chromis is a species belonging to the Pomacentridae family, which comprises both damselfishes and clownfishes. As with all Damselfish, they are eager feeders, tough as nails, and very easy on beginners. Green Chromis make ideal choices for communal tanks because they are not very aggressive compared to their cousins.
They like to occupy the middle to upper portions of the tank. It is under their natural habitat, where they can be near coral outgrowths. They love to feed on zooplankton and thrive on smaller food particles from their surroundings as they flow by. Install a decent filter in your tank that can provide a current for the Chromis to swim against as they crash face-first into their food.
Their central oval-shaped bodies produce flashes of iridescent green light, which make them crown jewels of any tank they occupy. At a length of only 5 inches, they thrive in tanks that are at least 30-gallons. Like other reef-safe fish, the Green Chromis does not bully invertebrates and corals.
All in all, these fish are easy to care for, unaggressive, and inexpensive – so you can get acquainted with marine life with these creatures.
Wrasses prefer to hang out near the tank’s sandy substrates, where they can hide underneath plenty of rocks from predators or seek some privacy.
They’re very shy and tend to keep to themselves as long as they’ve got lots of hiding spaces. Most wrasses do amazingly well in tank environments, but they generate a lot of bio-load. So we have to keep fish in larger tanks; otherwise, they quickly upset the nitrate and phosphate levels.
They’re aggressive with each other, especially when we keep two males in the same tank. If you notice male wrasses fight too often, make sure to separate them. The ideal thing to do is to keep males with several females in a single tank. Wrasses are carnivorous and actively hunt for food. They aren’t very picky eaters and thrive on fish fool pellets if offered.
They have distinct patterns on their body with unusual red eyes that are disproportionally large compared to everything else. The rear half of the body have Dots with black spots. They have a green-yellowish face with a mid-body black band from the 1st dorsal fin to the pectoral fin.
Most Cardinalfish species, including this one, create schools with benthic substrates such as sea anemones, sea urchins, and branching corals. They do not form a symbiotic relationship with Sea Urchins but don’t cause any harm to them either.
Most species of Cardinalfish are ideal for beginners, including the Flame Cardinalfish and the Banggai Cardinalfish. They are generally peaceful and don’t grow longer than 3 inches. The minimum tank requirement for Cardinalfish is 25 gallons or more.
The tough thing about most saltwater fish is the minimum tank requirement of 100 gallons or more, but Damselfish will do just fine with only 30 gallons.
Damselfish enjoy a diet rich in meaty foods such as Mysis, brine, frozen foods, and quality flake foods. They also occasionally eat dried seaweed, which provides them with the necessary fiber to process foods and promote gut health.
Word of caution, though, Damselfish are very aggressive and will make a life for docile fish miserable. You can mitigate the levels of aggression by providing them with plenty of space to hide in the tank. Once they claim their spot in the tank, they will aggressively fight any fish dares to invade what they deem to be their territory.
Instead of pairing Damselfish with docile fish, you should pair them with similar size to larger-sized species that are just as aggressive but should not be able to eat them. Wrasses, angelfish, and triggerfish are good tank mates because they’re similarly sized and share the same aggressive temperaments.
Blenny fish are characteristically small in size and bear an uncanny resemblance to gobies. They have long, eel-like bodies with large heads and eyes.
Blennies are very docile but can withstand a range of water conditions, making them excellent beginners’ choices. Their scaleless bodies only grow to about 4 inches in length and sport an olive green color with dark spots on the head.
Blennies have a long, continuous dorsal fin that runs along their back. Males and females are easy to distinguish because of noticeable differences in their appearance. For example, the male has an orange band running along his fin’s length and a bright blue spot on his dorsal fin.
They primarily eat crustaceans and mollusks. Can supplement their diet with spirulina, vegetable matter, and other foods usually given to herbivorous animals. Although blennies are relatively docile and get along with other communal species, they are known for extensive in-fighting, especially if the tank is tiny. So only add one to your aquarium.
Can trace their natural habitat to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, Coral Beauties make great additions to any tank. They do need at least 70 gallons or more to enjoy a high quality of life. They are gorgeous, vividly colored with bright orange stripes and a blue body that stands out in any aquarium setting. Coral Beauties do well on their own and also hang out in groups.
They do not require corals in the tank, but they do like to hide a lot, so ensure the aquarium has plenty of plants and rocks for them to hide. Like other angelfish, Coral Beauties enjoy an omnivorous diet with a mix of high-quality meaty foods such as frozen shrimp and vegetable matter such as algae. They are a bit aggressive, though, and must give careful thought to their tank mates.
Coral Beauties are known for nipping and eating corals, which makes them ill-suited to reef tanks. They are beautiful, and caring is easy.
8. Tangs – (Yellow, Blue, Kole)
You may already know that Tangs are the most popular saltwater fish, and the blue tang is the crown jewel. Like the super-popular Clownfish, tangs have enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity thanks to the Disney movie Finding Nemo.
This species got its name after its sparkling appearance and bright coloration that quickly grabs the onlooker’s attention. Their unique flat bodies have a round-ish shape that further adds to their beauty.
They can reach 12 inches in length and weigh only about 1.3 lbs., although males are known for growing larger than females. While most Tangs are omnivorous creatures, their favorite foodstuff is tiny aquatic creatures called plankton. The bulk of their nutrition comes from algae.
These fish use their tiny, sharp teeth to scrape off algae from the coral reef. You can either buy live algae from pet stores near you or purchase live rock to promote algae growth. Watch out, though, because algal growths can quickly upset the quality of the water.
Also known as the Pretty Prawn, Orange Spotted Diamond, or the Orange-Dashed Goby, these creatures are resistant to diseases and thrive in a range of water conditions. They are inexpensive and readily available at most pet stores. They’re not very picky eaters when it comes to food and will eat just about anything.
They are known as sand-sifters and will sift sand through their mouth, filtering out tiny food chunks. It can be a problem in a small tank because they will dump the sand on top of corals and other fish. You may have to intervene if this becomes a persistent problem.
Classified as protogynous species, which means they can easily change gender as and when needed. Don’t let this fool you into thinking that breeding is easy – you can provide them with near-perfect conditions, which isn’t possible for most fishkeepers to do so.
Most Diamond Watchman Gobies are peaceful and get along well with others, but they will not share the same space with their kind. Ensure they’re separated at all times – unless you want to breed them.
Most hobbyists will know them from Finding Nemo. There are easily well over 100 species of these dazzling ornamental saltwater species, which share a similar appearance to angelfish.
We can find Butterflyfish in the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic. Adult Butterflyfish have black vertical stripes with yellow highlights on their fins, but fry has distinctly dark colors and a spot that looks like an ‘eye’ on their dorsal fins. This unique feature proves useful in confusing predators.
Most species of Butterflyfish are semi-aggressive and very territorial. It necessitates the use of a large enough tank where they can claim a spot for themselves,
but you won’t regret having a school of them swimming around. If you want to keep more than one of these creatures together, it is best to introduce them into the tank at the same time.
They need lots of swimming and hiding space; otherwise, they quickly get stressed out. Butterflyfish are known for nipping on reefs, which makes them ideal for fish-only tanks.
They mainly eat sponges, algae, and corals. You can also supplement their omnivorous diet with planktonic animals and tiny crustaceous. However, some species only like to eat live corals, so unless you can easily buy live corals, you should avoid adding them to your tank.
Orange spotted gobies are marvelous to watch in tanks because of their unique behavior. They are best suited to 30 gallons or larger tanks with good hiding and plenty of swimming space. These guys like jumping a lot, so make sure you have a tight-fitting lid to prevent them from escaping!
They spend most of their time near the substrate, borrowing underneath in search of food, taking vast mouthfuls of sands, and filtering it out of their gills. It is a good thing because it allows you to keep the substrate-free of uneaten food and other debris, thus maintaining the water’s quality. It can be a nuisance source for bottom-dwelling creatures as the goby dumps its load on everyone indiscriminately.
Orange spotted gobies do well on a diet of frozen brine, Mysis shrimp, live black worms, and other foods for carnivorous creatures. All in all, these gobies will add drama and contrast to any saltwater aquarium.
Firefish has a unique-looking body with unique coloration and an adventurous personality that makes them a priority for most saltwater hobbyists.
They go by various names such as the Fire Dartfish, Fire Goby, and the Firefish Goby – an ode to their fascinating appearance. They have an orange-red to pinkish posterior, a yellow head, and a white interior. The caudal, anal, and dorsal fins have black highlights that further contribute to the contrast ratio.
Moreover, Firefish Goby have peaceful temperaments with energetic personalities. Because of their small size, they are ideal for smaller reef systems. Firefish Gobies swim in groups swimming over reefs in their natural habitat, consuming planktons that drift by in the water current. They’re always near their homes, also known as a bolt-hole, into which they quickly retreat at the first hint of conflict.
Recreating these conditions isn’t tricky for beginners; simply provide them with a 20-gallon tank, moderate lighting, and medium water currents passing over live rock. They’re known for jumping outside of the aquarium, so make sure to keep tightly secure the tank lid.
They are omnivorous fish that prefer a varied diet consisting of algae, zooplankton, brine fish, and Mysis shrimp.
They exclusively came from the Red Sea and used to be extremely expensive back in the day. However, breeders have had success in breeding them in captivity, which now lowers their price to an affordable $35 to $55.
If you plan to buy one for your marine tank, be sure to install lots of caves, plants, and rocks to help make them feel secure. The best tank contains lots of live rock where the Dottyback can claim their home.
It is worth noting that Dottybacks are a bit aggressive when other fish come closer to what they’ve defined as their territory. They are incredibly aggressive towards one another, which necessitates keeping only one per tank. But some fishkeepers have reported success by keeping them in pairs, but you’ll have to introduce them into the tank at the same time.
These bright-purple colored fish will add bright pops of purple to red color in your tank. They prefer to eat pests, zooplankton, small mantis shrimp, and bristle worms.
Mollies can live in both fresh and saltwater, making them tolerant of a wide range of environmental conditions. You can keep them in a freshwater tank and then a saltwater tank, but they will acclimate slowly. They can also control the tank clean because of their love for voraciously eating algae. Various Mollies species come in all colors and sizes, and caring is easy.
Mollies are livebearers and easy to breed. Their eggs develop inside their bodies so that live fry can be released. The ring is comfortable. To get them to mate successfully, you have to create the tank’s perfect conditions, such as ideal water chemistry and excellent tank husbandry.
In the wild, mollies exclusively feed on algae, plant matter, and small vertebrates. In your saltwater tank, they need a diet of high-quality flake food and lots of vegetables. You can also feed them Hikari Micro Wafers to provide them with the necessary nutrition.
15. Royal Gramma
Royal Gramma Basslets prefer to live in reef systems with at least 30 gallons of water. They are known for their bright violet to purple colored anterior contrasted by a yellow posterior. Adults reach a relatively small size (at only 2.5 to 4 inches long) and are perfectly suited to nano reef systems.
The Royal Gramma Basslet originates from the Caribbean sea’s marine reef systems with plenty of natural rockwork caves where they hide.
They are mostly peaceful but will turn aggressive towards their kind. Thus you should only keep one of the fish in the tank. Fish will stay out of the way of your other fish as long as they remain in their territory.
They are exclusively carnivorous and love to eat protein-rich foods, including Mysis shrimp, brine shrimp, and small meat pieces. Feed them twice a day and only as much as they can eat in 2 minutes. As long as you can provide them with a place to hide and enough protein-rich foods, your Royal Gramma will have a decent time in its tank.
16. Flame Hawkfish
Also known as the Brilliant Hawkfish, the Flame Hawkfish has a deep red body with dark coverings along with its dorsal fins and eyes. It gives the impression of giant balls of flames swimming around in your tank as they dart from one corner to another. The average price for a Flame Hawkfish ranges anywhere from $65 to $80 depending on where you get them from
They are known for their personable nature, small size, and resistance to diseases. However, the minimum tank requirement for them is about 40 gallons. Like most hawkfish, they are active hunters and prefer to swim around the tank’s bottom area. In the wild, they sit on top of corals and rocks, ready to grab unsuspecting prey that comes too close.
The Flame Hawkfish is exclusively carnivorous and has a preference for small invertebrates like crustaceans and corals. They pick snails and hermit crabs right out of their shells. They decided to go after smaller fish if it can fit in their mouth – so make sure to separate them from fry or other fish that can’t defend themselves.
For the most part, Triggerfish species are not reef safe. It is because marine life such as invertebrates and hard corals’ activate’ their primal hunting instincts. Instead, make sure the tank has lots of hiding spots and shelters for them to feel secure.
The triggerfish fondness for landscaping, and as such, will often rearrange rocks and plants in their environment if they can shift around. Therefore, you should only select plants and substrates that can tolerate regularly moved around.
They can be friendly and have a reputation for being peaceful towards anything that doesn’t fit into their mouths. Their role of conduct is simple: if it fits, it dies and gets eaten.
Always introduce younger triggerfish into an aquarium because they acclimate easier. Fishkeepers have noted a greater success rate by adding two triggerfish at the same time.
They are carnivorous species that prefer to eat meaty foods such as Mysis shrimp, silversides, krill, shrimp, squid, clams, and other fish. Should feed them at least 2 to 3 times a day.
Blue Reef Chromis, also known as the Blue Chromis, are peaceful and very active fish that prefer to occupy their tanks’ top half. The care requirements for the Blue Reef Chromis are generally straightforward. They easily cohabit with other fish species, especially corals and invertebrates. The Blue Reef Chromis is a shoaling fish and prefers to be kept in larger groups.
They thrive on an omnivorous diet that consists of a range of protein-rich foods and vitamin-rich pellets. Their most noticeable feature is easily their vibrant blue shades. To maintain this color, you should provide them with a varied diet. Since they only grow to 3 inches, you can keep them in a tank with a minimum volume of around 30 gallons.
Successful breeding requires near-perfect water chemistry and a vast aquarium with no predators in sight. Males will prepare a nest in the substrate bed into which the female will lay a large number of eggs. Males fertilize the eggs and protect the eggs until juveniles hatch a few days later.
They are reputed for being the best saltwater fish species for beginners but do come with their challenges. Four Stripe Damselfish are very aggressive and become territorial as they reach adulthood, both towheads other fish species and their kind.
On the flip side, they have eye-catching silver and bold black patterns that make them stand out in any saltwater tank. They are very hardy and survive a range of environmental conditions. Four Stripe Damselfish are not fussy eaters and will eat just about any carnivorous food offerings.
Most fishkeepers add them because they offer a stark contrast to the greens, purples, and pinks of live rock and corals.
When you first add them into your tank, they will claim a rocky outcrop as their home and violently attack any fish that dares to swim too close. If you keep them in a tank with only 30 gallons of space, they’ll claim just about all the freedom to themselves, which will result in unnecessary deaths.
Instead of pairing them with small, docile fish, you should pair them with similarly sized to larger fish that can protect themselves
20. Flame Angelfish
Flame Angelfish are easier to care for than larger species. They boast bold red-orange color with black vertical stripes that makes them a flashy addition to any saltwater tank. Because they can withstand a range of water conditions, most fishkeepers introduce them last into their saltwater tank. They won’t give you much trouble.
They are somewhat difficult to breed in captivity, but experienced aquarists have reported success in raising their young. To encourage breeding, you should keep a pair in a deep tank. Use artificial lights to simulate a day-night cycle. If you’re persistent enough, the couple may end up mating. The fry should hatch in about 24 hours; their favorite food is microscopic algae.
Flame Angelfish are peaceful, like their larger cousins. They will claim a small territory but will not aggressively defend it. They occasionally graze on live rock, which means they’re not reef-safe. Their favorite foods are corals, sponges, and algae.
Most aquarists agree that the Bicolor Angelfish happens to be the most striking of the Centropyge group among pygmy angelfish. It has a vibrant yellow anterior half and a deep blue on the posterior half – a combination that makes them addicting to watch.
The Bicolor Angelfish has a long, overly shaped body and grows to a total length of about 6 inches, which exceeds its cousins’ size by about 2 inches.
They are safe to keep in the same tank with similarly sized communal species. Like other Angelfish, the Bicolor Angelfish are violent towards their kind, and it’s best to stay singly. It is worth noting that they are not reef safe because they are known for nipping at large stony corals, invertebrates, and clams.
They are omnivorous creatures and thrive on a varied diet with meaty foods and veggies. The best combination of food includes spirulina, algae-based foods, brine shrimp, Mysis shrimp, and other meaty foods. Make sure to feed them at least three times a day, but only as much as they can reasonably eat within 2 to 3 minutes.22. Rock Beauty Angelfish
This angelfish species has a mostly black body, which becomes even darker as it grows into an adult. The front half and head portion of the body and the caudal fin is a bright yellow. The eyes have blue accents that are incredibly prominent in any tank setting.
Rock Beauty Angelfish is simply not recommended for beginners because of their diet, which comprises almost exclusively sponges. These sponges are not easy to come by in pet stores. They also prefer to eat vegetable matter such as spirulina, protein-rich foods, and high-quality angelfish food containing sponges.
Their natural habitat comprises of prolific coral growth, rock jetties, and rocky reefs. Juveniles are very timid and will mostly hide inside their shells. They need massive tanks with a capacity of over 100 gallons of water. It becomes a requirement when they reach a length of 4 inches. The average price tag for small Rock Beauty Angelfish is about $45, but it could go even higher depending on where you live.
23. Chalk Bass
Most beginner hobbyists new to saltwater species often overlook the Chalk Bass, but they happen to be one of the easiest fish for newbies. As their name suggests, they come from the same family as Sea Bass. Although they’re classified as predators, Chalk Bass are known to only feed on Zooplanktons, fry, small invertebrates, and other fish that are small enough to fit in their mouths.
The body has a purple mid-section against an orange backdrop. You’ll notice electric blue vertical bands that add to their appeal. Chalk Bass don’t grow very big and reach a length of 3 inches max. They are excellent for both fish and reef tanks. However, do not keep them near small shrimp because they will trigger the Chalk Bass’s natural hunting instincts.
The Chalk Bass is a social animal that forms small shoals in its natural habitat. They can live in small tanks with a volume of 10 gallons only, but keep adding 10 gallons per Chalk Bass. When you first add them into the tank, they will mostly stay out of sight and hide from other fish. Hence, you should install lots of caves and rocks for them to hide.
Black Cap Basslets are deep water species originating from the Caribbean sea. They are known for their striking appearance, which has a rich purple color with a jet-black head.
They only grow to about 4 inches in size and are considered to be very hardy. To make them feel at home, you should introduce plenty of live rock into the tank, which will provide them with the cover and provide biological filtration.
They are carnivorous species that feed on copepods, isopods, and other small invertebrates naturally found in the wild. You should provide them a couple of times a day with various protein-rich marine foods and micro-pellets. The average aquarium size for these creatures is about 30 gallons, which is relatively easy for beginners.
They should not be kept with other Basslets to avoid aggression and excessive in-fighting but can be kept peacefully and safely in a reef with other fish.
Longnose Hawkfish makes excellent additions to reef tanks under ideal conditions. They have a red body with white checked patterns. The hawkfish is fond of live rock and likes to perch upon and observe the aquarium from a safe distance. I can see them pouncing on anything that catches their attention, only to retreat into their rocks.
Please do not keep them near smaller invertebrates because they will kill and eat them. They consider sea stars, hermit crabs, and snails as a fair game. The Longnose jumps outside of its tank every so often, which is why you need a tight-fitting canopy to prevent it from getting too adventurous.
All hawkfish start as females and can change into males when they need to mate. It is not easy to get them to breed and raise their young past the metamorphosis phase. They thrive in a minimum tank space of around 30 gallons or more. Most fishkeepers introduce them last into the tank because they are aggressive towards same-sized or smaller fish.
26. Dwarf Lionfish
Dwarf Lionfish are an intriguing and famous saltwater fish prized after by aquarists worldwide because of their remarkable coloration and shape. They are elegant and graceful, but being positively evil means should handle them with care. Dwarf Lionfish are not beginner-friendly, and only experts should take them.
In the wild, they inhabit shallow coastal waters. They have an affinity for rocky outcrops and caves where they silently wait for prey, such as tiny crustaceans, invertebrates, and small fish that happen to get close enough. They mostly stay near their caves and don’t need much room to swim. They don’t grow huge either and need a 55-gallon tank or larger.
They are shy when first introduced into the tank and will take a few days before slowly acclimating to the tank. You can introduce other fish (large fish that lionfish won’t eat).
They are aggressive eaters and prefer to eat live foods. When feeding, they will raise their pectoral fins wideout, trapping their prey before swallowing it whole. Lionfish can open their mouth surprisingly wide. You can also get them to eat frozen food with enough training. It can be difficult.
27. Swissguard Basslet
Swiss guard Basslets are beautiful fish with elongated bodies adorned with alternating horizontal stripes of mustard-yellow and black against a red backdrop. At certain angles,
they can appear silver. Their caudal and dorsal fins have dark tips ripped with a blue hue. They thrive in reefs but may pose a small threat to ornamental crustaceans or anything small enough to fit in their mouths.
They don’t have much in the way of specialist requirements and will make do with a small 10-gallon tank for a single individual. They are carnivorous creatures and prefer to have a protein-rich diet involving crustacean fish, marine fish, Mysis shrimp, and frozen food.
They are very expensive, with a steep price tag of $200+. Prices depend on where you live. Make sure only to buy them if you know all there is to know about them. The last thing you want is for your stock to die because of low water chemistry and lack of tank husbandry.
Wrapping Up: Best Saltwater Aquarium Fish Combination
You can pick any of the above saltwater fish since they’re all ideal for home marine aquariums. Not all of the fish are friendly towards beginners, and you’ll have to do further reading up on their care requirements. Make sure to click on each fish for in-depth care sheets and guides.
The best saltwater fish combination is where all the fish are similarly sized and peaceful enough to get along.