Best Saltwater Fish to Add to Your First Aquarium

Beginning saltwater aquarium hobbyists typically make one significant mistake when purchasing the first stock that they add to their saltwater aquarium without even realizing that they’ve done so. Because many fledgling saltwater aquarium keepers have previous experience with keeping freshwater fish, many assume that the parameters are much the same. This is rarely the case. While there are fish and invertebrates that will for the most part get along with one another, it is far more likely that the animals in your saltwater tank, particularly if that tank is less than 55 gallons, will see one another as rivals, rather than as companions. For this reason, it is that much more important to forgo selecting fish for your saltwater aquarium based solely on how attractive you think they are, and taking their natural temper and their ease of care into account instead.

Fortunately, some of the most easily cared-for saltwater aquarium fish are also extremely attractive additions to your aquarium. They are not always a perfect fit, however.

Damselfishes (Clown Anemone Fishes)
Among the most interesting fishes you can add to your saltwater aquarium, Anemone fish live best in the symbiosis between the fish and its anemone. The fish provides the anemone with food detritus that the fish spits and swallows in typical fish fashion, and the anemone provides protection for the fish inside its stinging tentacles. Clown fish in particular are extremely hardy fishes, often added to a new tank first because of their hardiness and ability to acclimate to the new tank more quickly than can other fishes. The clown fish is not a particularly choosy eater, and can even be kept without an anemone if you wish. They are also extremely affordable when compared with other saltwater aquarium species. This is primarly because the Clown fish, and particularly the Clarke’s Clown have in the last few years largely ceased to be gathered from wild sources. Today, most Clarke’s Clown damselfishes are captive-bred and raised. The Clown fish does have one significant drawback, however. They are extremely territorial fish, and will quickly kill and consume most any fish or invertebrate that is smaller than they are. In addition, keeping more than a single specimen in a tank smaller than 30 gallons will almost always lead to stress between the two fish, as they will see one another as rivals within their territory.

Fairy Basslets
Basslets are small aquarium fish, with the most commonly seen example being the Royal Gramma basslet. This fish has a body that is purple toward the head moving to yellow at the tail fin. The Royal Gramma is an extremely hardy aquarium fish, particularly for the new saltwater enthusiast. These fish are carnivorous, meaning that they are happiest when they are fed live food such as brine shrimp, but can be sustained on live-based dry aquarium food. Tanks that are less than 30 gallons should not keep more than a single Basslet of any kind. While they are generally not territorial with other species, they can become particularly aggressive if they are kept in a small tank with others of their species. One of these fishes per 20 gallons of aquarium water is generally acceptable. Like the Clarks’ Clown, most Fairy Basslets are quite inexpensive to purchase.

Harlequin Bass
The Harlequin Bass is a somewhat difficult saltwater specimen to find for you aquarium, but is a relatively easy sea bass to keep. They are smaller than other sea basses, growing to a size no larger than about four inches. This fish prefers to remain hidden when possible, often burrowing into the substrate of the aquarium or finding hiding places in your live rock. Typically, the Harlequin bass is a predatory fish with any of its smaller tank mates, and so should be kept only with fish that are the same size or larger. Like many saltwater aquarium species, the Harlequin Bass does best when kept in a tank that exceeds 30 gallons in volume.

Choosing a saltwater aquarium fish for your first aquarium requires care and diligence, but when you do so, you’ll find that your aquarium has a lot to offer both for recreation and education.

“The Saltwater Aquarium Handbook”; George Blasiola; 2010
“Freshwater and Marine Aquarium Fishes”; Simon & Schuster Guides; 1977

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