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Saltwater Fish – What are good choices for my aquarium?

Magnificent Foxface

Selecting saltwater fish for your aquarium is fun. Whether it is the first fish going into a tank, or it is a new addition to a community, a new fish just seems to add even more life to an aquarium.

When you are looking at saltwater fish in the store, the urge to buy comes on strong. I tell everyone to wait before buying, and to make sure that they are buying a fish that will continue to make them happy over the coming years (I advise our customers to always ask us about a fish before buying – our job is to keep an aquarium happy, and at the end of the day, their job is to sell fish out of their inventory).


Good saltwater fish to add to an aquarium:

I’m hesitant to call a fish one of the worst fish to add into an aquarium. But there is a large selection of saltwater fish that have usually been great additions to any aquarium.


Kole Tang

The Kole Tang is an interesting saltwater fish with a yellow circle around its eyes. The fish is an algae eater, and keeps itself busy cleaning algae off of rocks and glass. This fish is usually a more docile fish, getting along with most other fish.


Foxface Rabbit Fish

Another really nice fish that one doesn’t see in every saltwater fish aquarium. It has the bright yellow color that people love in yellow tangs, without the bullying attitude that yellow tangs are known to develop. It is another algae eater with distinctive fox-like markings on its face and interesting body shape with a set of spines lining its back.

Caution: This fish is venomous. It’s not aggressive, but you want to take care not to touch its spines, as they will sting you. The Foxface Rabbit Fish also has a camouflage color scheme which it displays when it is sleeping, hiding, or stressed. This coloration can catch you off guard if you don’t know about it.


Lawnmower Blenny

It seems that everyone who has one of these fish in their tanks lists it as one of their favorites. This saltwater fish is not colorful, nor pretty, but it captures attention. It will play in corals, hang out on rocks, swim around, and is a voracious algae eater. The Lawnmower Blenny has been a great addition to almost every aquarium I have added one to.


Diamond Sleeper Goby

This saltwater fish entertains while performing an important cleaning task. A Diamond Sleeper Goby (and other gobies) eats detritus (fish waste) which has settled into the sand.  It does this by sucking sand into its mouth, swimming up a bit, and then blowing it out of its gills.

It may not sound like much, but aquarium owners tell me that once they see them doing it one time, it becomes one of their favorite things to watch.

This fish is a burrower. It will redesign the floor of your aquarium by making hills out of the sand it pulls (sometimes pulling it out from underneath rocks). There are a couple of our customers’ tanks which have a six-inch high hill of sand when we arrive. We flatten it out, and usually before we have left, the goby is back at work rebuilding its hill.

So far, I haven’t seen one do any damage to a tank with its remodeling. Just know that when you have one of these, sand is going to be moved… which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.


Ocellaris Clownfish (the “Nemo” Fish)

If your aquarium is going to be viewed by children, you are almost required to have one or two of these saltwater fish. They are entertaining, active, and have personalities which will often surprise you. If you have an anemone in your aquarium, they may “pair up” with it, and you will have an ongoing show in your tank.

Want something different? Breeders have developed a wide variety of “designer” clowns with different patterns and colorations. So far, I haven’t noticed much difference in their behavior.

Clowns are known to aggressively protect their territory once they reach a level of maturity. Some start nipping at other fish when they get too close to their home.

In rare cases, they will bite a person’s hand while they are working in the aquarium (It’s more of a surprise than anything else when it happens).

The only type of clown fish that I don’t normally recommend (unless you have a very large tank) is the Maroon Clownfish. These saltwater fish have earned the reputation of having really nasty attitudes towards other fish (and to people). More of our customers have requested the removal of this fish than any other fish.


Bonus: A “Must Have” For (Almost) Every Aquarium

Astrea snails, Mexican Turbo Snails, and Mexican Hermit Crabs are excellent for keeping an aquarium clean. They get into hard-to-reach places and remove algae from all sorts of spots. Almost every time I have added a “clean-up crew” to an aquarium, they have made a big difference in the cleanliness of the tank between maintenance visits.

These crews will need to be replaced a few times every year, and the snails have been known to push things around which aren’t glued down. If you have predators, such as triggers and puffer fish, snails and hermits are on their menu and are likely be eaten.

What are your favorite fish in your aquarium? Leave a comment below and join the conversation!

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