The royal gramma, also known as the fairy basslet, is one of the most popular and brightly-colored saltwater fish.
Generally, it has a mellow temperament and is easy to care for. Thus, it is an ideal choice for both novice and experienced aquarium enthusiasts.
Now, if you also want to adopt this fin buddy in your tank, this guide is here to help!
|Origin||Western Central Atlantic: Bahamas, Bermuda; Central America to North of South America|
|Scientific Name||Gramma loreto|
|Common Names||Fairy basslet|
|IUCN Red List Status||Least Concern|
|Appearance||Torpedo-shaped bicolored body, large lips, protruded eyes, black spot on the dorsal fin, black line streaking through the mouth and eye|
|Size||Up to 8 cm (3.1 in)|
|Lifespan||Up to 5-6 years, Up to 10 years with best care|
|Temperament||Usually peaceful, territorial aggression toward own and similar-looking species|
|Tank Level||Bottom dwellers|
|Water Temperature||72-78 °F (22-26 °C)|
|Water Hardness||8-12 dKH|
|Minimum Tank Size||30 gallons for 1, 55 gallons for a pair|
|Tank Environment||Pristine water conditions, lots of hiding and swimming spaces, enough space to have their own territory|
|Tank Mates||Its pair of opposite sex, other peaceful species that don’t look similar|
The royal gramma is a peaceful fish native to the Western Atlantic Ocean. It usually lives in water that’s 2 to 60 meters deep and is known for swimming upside down under rocks and caves.
It is also spotted in Bermuda, the Antilles, the Gulf of Mexico, Venezuela, and the Bahamas. Their natural range also covers the waters of northern South America and Central America.
According to the IUCN Red List Status of 2011, this species is assessed as Least Concern.
The species belongs to the Perciformes order and Grammatidae family. Its binomial name is Gramma loreto, but it is popular worldwide as royal gramma and fairy basslet.
Fun Fact: The specific name “loreto” of the fish is taken from Spanish – meaning “little parrot.” It is an indication of the fish’s majestic colors.
The royal gramma truly looks regal due to its fancy combination of colors. If you also want to add a dash of color to your aquarium, here is a rundown of its physical characteristics.
A royal gramma fish is usually about 7.6 cm (3 in) long on average. But its size can vary with factors like genes, how well it’s taken care of, and its gender. However, it is highly unlikely for a captive-bred species to grow relatively big.
The largest captive-bred scientifically measured fish of this species was around 7.9 cm (3.1 in) long.
The royal gramma stands out with its bright colors. The fish does not have a lot of intricate patterns. Its front half is purple, the back half is yellow.
The transition of these two colors makes it seem as though it’s stitched together on a band around its middle. The color transition is usually pretty sudden, but some specimens may have a better gradient.
There are small dots all over its torso. The ventral fins match the purple front. Furthermore, there’s a black dot on the front edge of their dorsal fin. A dark line goes across its mouth that extends past the eyes.
The royal gramma has a torpedo-like body shape, wide near the head and slightly narrowing towards the tail. It also has large eyes, prominent lips, and sharp teeth.
The dorsal fin runs from just before the head to just before the tail, matching the body colors. There’s a small rounded anal fin just before the tail, followed by two thin purple pelvic fins.
Tiny pectoral fins are below the gills. It also has a fan-shaped yellow caudal fin.
The royal gramma has an interesting life cycle. It is a protogynous hermaphrodite, which means all young fry are always born female.
The dominant fish in the school later turns into a male and becomes more aggressive. This gender transition happens only after the fish grows to an inch long.
You can tell the male apart because it’s usually bigger and has a blue dorsal fin. The male’s anal fin is longer and pointier than the female’s.
Many say the male fish has more purple coloration than yellow.
Behavior & Temperament
The royal gramma is usually calm and shy, and it doesn’t cause trouble except for territorial issues toward its own and similarly-colored species.
The fish claims rocks, crevices, reefs, and corals as its home and chases away other fish that try to intrude.
It likes to stay close to its home and quickly return when scared. This is also why they are bottom dwellers.
The species is also known for jumping out of aquariums, especially when they are new to them, so a secure lid is essential.
One unique behavior is that it often points its stomach towards hard surfaces. Then it hangs and swims upside down under ledges. This might look strange, but it poses no harm to the fish.
When threatened, the fish opens its mouth as wide as it can, aka the “gramma gape” and assumes intimidating postures. It tries to appear fearsome like the great white shark and scare away attackers.
The fish is extremely active during the day, making it diurnal. It stays hidden and suddenly darts to grab food when hungry.
If the fish is relatively inferior in the group, it may get intimidated by the superior specimens. If left unaddressed, this can result in serious problems that must be dealt with promptly.
The royal gramma fish has an expected lifespan of approximately 5 to 6 years, which is largely influenced by the level of care.
Inadequate care can reduce the longevity of the fish. It is essential to maintain consistent water parameters and quality to support overall health and maximize lifespan.
With proper care, it may even surpass the 6-year mark. In my experience, you can sustain the fish for up to 10 years.
Author’s Note: This fish gives a visual warning when something goes wrong. It undergoes discoloration when water conditions are not ideal.
Royal Gramma Fish Care
The royal gramma, while tough, needs proper care for their well-being. From water conditions to the tank environment, you need to fine-tune things according to its preferences to keep it healthy and happy. So, let’s find out how…
The minimum tank size for a single royal gramma is 30 gallons. This provides them ample space to swim freely and explore various reefs and hiding spots.
While it’s young, a 20-gallon tank can suffice.
If you plan to keep a pair of them, a 55-gallon tank is the recommended size.
Furthermore, if you plan to keep multiple royal grammas together, upgrade by 20 gallons per fish to ensure their comfort and well-being.
The resilient royal gramma exhibits a preference for particular water parameters. While it adapts to various water conditions, aim for an optimal range to enhance their well-being and potentially extend their lifespan, like the following.
- pH Levels: 8.1-8.4
- Water Temperature: 72-78 °F (22-26 °C)
- Water Hardness: 8-12 dKH
- Ammonia: 0 ppm
- Nitrite: 0 ppm
- Nitrate: 0 ppm
- Synthetic Salt Level: 26-33 ppt
- Specific Gravity: 1.020-1.025
To help this fish thrive, you must replicate its natural habitat. But that can be a bit daunting, so follow these steps to make things easier.
To mimic the natural habitat of the royal gramma, consider adding sand as the substrate. You can also use live coral sand or aragonite.
Since the species aren’t the best swimmers, they can’t escape quickly when scared. So decorate your aquarium with numerous saltwater aquarium-compatible plants to break the line of sight.
It will provide ample shelter when the fish needs it and also add some playing spots.
This particular species of basslet prefers to inhabit the depths of the water, where it is surrounded by aquatic plants and foliage.
As a result, it tends to avoid harsh, bright lighting. So, set up subdued ceiling lighting within the tank to create a more suitable environment for this fish.
Try to install at least 50 PAR LED lights and keep them on for a minimum of 9 hours a day.
Avoid exposing the tank to direct sunlight.
It’s essential to provide several hiding spots for your royal gramma basslet to ensure its well-being. Without suitable hiding places, it can become stressed, which can seriously affect its health.
Some excellent saltwater tank-friendly options include coral formations, reefs, live rocks, cavities, caves, and crevices.
To maintain a healthy environment, use a power filter to efficiently remove water pollutants, enhance water circulation, and keep the tank water well-oxygenated.
When performing water changes, there’s no need to completely replace the tank’s water.
If you perform weekly replacements, change approximately 10% of the water. For monthly changes, aim for a 20-25% water change. During these changes, be careful while transferring the fish between tanks.
Incorporate marine salts to re-chlorinate the new water added.
Water Flow Rate
As this fish is a poor swimmer, it prefers light to moderate water currents.
Fish Care Tip: Regularly remove any debris, detritus, and leftover food at the tank’s bottom. Vacuum the substrate and clean the rocks and aquarium glass for optimal tank cleanliness.
Food & Diet
The royal gramma is a carnivorous micropredator in the wild. It preys on various marine organisms such as zooplankton, phytoplankton, copepods, snail veligers, and larval crustaceans.
It also targets adult snails smaller than an inch, as well as amphipods and isopods hiding beneath rocks.
Additionally, similar to cleaner wrasses, it may engage in cleaning behavior by consuming parasites found on the scales of other fish.
In an aquarium setting, it is advisable to provide the fish with a diet including a combination of commercial foods and food it feeds in the wild.
It’s not a picky eater, so a wide variety of food helps meet its nutritional needs. Some of the common dietary components for the fish are:
- Mysis shrimps
- Freshwater and marine zooplankton
- Brine shrimps
- Crab meat
- Frozen fish
Sometimes, the fish might get bored if you feed the same thing every day. So make sure to bring variations in your diet each day.
You also need to feed it only 2-4 times a day and ensure that you place the food close to its chosen territory.
The fish takes any leftovers to its hiding spots as snacks for later.
The royal gramma is friendly with many reef fish, but there are some important rules for adding friends to their tank.
All tank buddies should be calm to prevent fights, but they should also be strong enough to cope with some teasing.
Here is a list of tankmates you can consider to house your royal gramma with:
- Green chromis
- Neon gobies
- Firefish gobies
- Blue pygmy angelfish
- Coral beauty angelfish
- Yellow tangs
- Banggai cardinalfish
Apart from fish, other suitable companions for your fairy basslet can be:
- Peppermint shrimps
- Coral banded shrimps
If you add corals, ensure other tank mates are reef-safe.
Other than that, if you want to house more than one fairy basslet, remember that it requires space. A pair of male and female can easily coexist in an appropriately sized tank.
If you want to add more, ensure you don’t introduce more than one male in a tank and have enough space for hiding, forming territories, and swimming. To ensure they all coexist peacefully, house them while they are still young.
Tank Mates to Avoid
First and foremost, the tank mates of the royal gramma shouldn’t look similar in shape or color.
For instance, the fish looks pretty similar to multiple species like:
- Royal dottyback (Pictichromis paccagnellae): It has a distinct boundary between the purple and yellow colors and lacks a dark spot on the dorsal fin and stripe across the mouth and eye.
- Brazilian basslet (Gramma brasiliensis): It has duller coloration and lacks a dark streak across the mouth and eye.
- Bicolor basslet (Lipogramma klayi): It lacks the black dot on the dorsal fin and stripe across the mouth and eye.
Avoid housing any of the above with a royal gramma. Otherwise, there would be major aggression in the tank.
Other than these, you must also avoid the following listed species:
- Orange Back fairy wrasse
- Purple pygmy angelfish
- Blue devil domino damselfish
- Dwarf lionfish
- Snowflake eel
- Red scooter blenny
- Line wrasse
The royal gramma is a strong and hardy fish with a high resistance power. Even though it isn’t prone to any species-specific diseases, there are certain common ailments you should watch out for.
|Saltwater Ich||External Protozoan Parasite||Loss of appetite, white spots, lethargy, flashing||Elevate water temperature, use ich medications and aquarium salts|
|Fin Rot||Bacterial Infection||Fraying, the disintegration of fins, lethargy, loss of appetite, discoloration of fins||Antibiotics, improve water quality, ich medications, aquarium salts, removal of physically harmful objects|
|Columnaris||Bacterial Infection||Cloudy eyes, red and sore body, tail and fin rot, lethargy, appetite loss, white film on body, fungus growths||Enhancement in water quality, antibiotics, stress reduction|
|Brooklynella||Parasitic Infection||Peeling or sloughing off skin, white mucus in affected areas||Quarantine, acriflavine bath or prolonged diluted formalin bath Temporary relief: freshwater bath|
You can prevent these common diseases with just a little intervention in your routine. Try to:
- Keep the water, rocks, caves, and reefs in the tank clean
- Follow a proper water change routine
- Manage their diet plan to help them live long
Breeding & Reproduction
The royal gramma is easy to breed in captivity. All you need to do is prepare the right setup and follow the instructions:
Choose a naturally mated pair of at least 3 inches. If you have multiple pairs, pick the most active and colorful pair from your tank.
To get the perfect breeding pair, group young juvenile females first. The most dominant juvenile fish in the school will turn into a male.
Set up a tank of at least 55 gallons and maintain a steady water temperature.
Breeding typically occurs in the warmer months from February to June, requiring a mated pair and a water temperature of above 73 °F (23 °C).
The male builds an algae-covered nest for 1-2 days among rocks on the reef. Copulation happens discreetly, and the female lays 5 to 40 eggs in the early morning. The male then fertilizes these eggs. The eggs stick to the algae.
This breeding process happens in sessions, with multiple sessions daily during the breeding month.
The incubation phase lasts for about 5-7 days. Until hatching, the male protects the nest. The eggs usually hatch during low light conditions in the evenings, every day continuously as the parent pair mated every day.
Once all eggs hatch, you can remove the male. However, fry may grow at different rates, requiring various prey.
Fry Care & Development
Keep in mind that the first-hatched grammas are larger, which can make feeding a bit tricky. Initially, feed them all small food particles.
When you notice a major difference in fry size, separate them according to their dietary requirements. Smaller offspring can eat rotifers and copepods, while larger ones can have larval brine shrimp.
As they reach an inch in length, they can consume mysis shrimp, nauplii, and snail veligers. Further, as the new basslets reach 1.5 inches in size, they can join the main community tank.
Breeding Tip: Since the pair mates and lays eggs every day, there will be a huge amount of fry. If you don’t have enough space to house them all, it’s better to separate the pair soon after a few mating sessions.
Quick Buying Tips
- Buy a school of juvenile female fish and allow the dominant one to turn into a male.
- Do not buy too many males for one tank. And if you do, keep each of them in a separate tank with one other female as a pair.
- Quarantine the fish before transferring it to a community tank.
A word from FIA
Royal grammas are one of the best eye-catching fish for marine aquariums. The low-maintenance, tough fish are popular for having a lot of personality.
They’re popular for swimming around the tank in search of food, which is truly a sight to behold. It’s also extremely cute how they snag food particles in their dens and crevices!
So, if you found this article helpful, share it with other enthusiasts. Let them also join you on this new journey of adopting these attractive creatures.
In case you face any hurdles in maintaining your tiny little buddies, connect with us through email and we will be more than happy to help you!