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11 Popular Small Saltwater Fishes You Need to See

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Fishes have been popular as pets for generations. They are generally easy to care for and can be an ideal option if you don’t want fur all over your home. That said, saltwater fish present a unique challenge compared to freshwater ones. 

For starters, they require more care and maintenance. It is essential to clean their nano tanks regularly so they can thrive. Furthermore, it is best not to overcrowd the tanks, enabling them to thrive happily without feeling suffocated. 

If you are looking for some of the best small saltwater fish for your nano tank, look no further. We have compiled an informative list and guide to help you choose the right ones. 

So without further ado, let’s get straight to the deets!

Best Small Saltwater Fish

  1. Ocellaris Clownfish

Our first fish needs no introduction. Anyone familiar with the movie “Finding Nemo” has already fallen in love with the lovely Clownfish. Undoubtedly, the “Nemo fish” or Ocellaris Clownfish is one of the most popular saltwater fish species for most nano tank owners. 

Sporting bright orange and white asymmetrical stripes over its body, the Clownfish is one of the most beautiful and friendly saltwater fishes to consider. They have a unique swimming style that appears adorable to any onlooker. Their wobbly swimming style is fueled by their ravenous appetites and bold but friendly behavior. 

Although they look eerily similar to their sibling species, the Percula Clownfish, they are not identical. If you’re wondering how you can differentiate between them, check out their eye color and the stripes they proudly wear. 

The Percula Clownfish are distinguished by wider black or dark stripes around the white stripes. The Ocellaris Clownfish, however, sport thinner dark edges. Furthermore, the former species generally have lighter eyes than the Ocellaris. 

If you plan on getting your own Nemo home, beware. These little fish require a lot of attention, care, and good water quality. Also, you need to carefully control the intensity of light in their tanks to ensure that they thrive.

  1. Pajama Cardinalfish

Moving on to our next favorite, we have the Pajama Cardinalfish. These fish are relatively hardy and have a gentle temperament, making them a popular choice amongst fish lovers. 

Now, there are several species of Cardinalfish you will find. However, the Pajama Cardinalfish is by far the most popular species for nano tanks. 

This saltwater fish has a distinctive appearance owing to its yellow face and contrasting red eyes. Moreover, it has a spotted body with large fins, making it look quite appealing. At maturity, it will grow about 3 inches long, making it ideal for small tanks (or Nano tanks). 

Its friendly temperament makes it an excellent choice for beginner aquarium enthusiasts. Another interesting characteristic about this fish is its hardiness and willingness to adapt to almost any saltwater tank. Moreover, they are not very picky eaters, but you will need to put them on a special diet for them to thrive.

You can opt for vitamin-enhanced brine, which enhances their growth spurt and health. Also, feeding them Mysis shrimp will keep them in good spirits, as they enjoy a carnivorous diet. That said, you won’t find them being overly fussy about their food habits. Ensure that you keep the tank clean and don’t overcrowd it with too many fish species, and they will thrive. 

  1. Royal Gramma

As the name suggests, the Royal Gramma sports a vivid, royal purple shade, giving it a unique appeal. Moreover, its contrasting yellow abdomen and tail enhance its appearance and instantly brighten up your tank. 

The Royal Gramma is native to the Western Atlantic Ocean, but you can easily purchase them from local fisheries and pet shops. 

An important thing to remember about these fish is that they are essentially deepwater fish. This means that their natural habitat consists of corals, caves, and small stones or shells which they can bury into. They are not fond of direct, harsh light, so you must not expose them to direct sunlight or artificial light. 

When creating a perfect living space for them, ensure that you provide ample space for them to move freely. You must avoid overcrowding the tank, or else the fish may not feel comfortable and get sick or even perish. 

As for their habits, the Royal Gramma are introverted fishes which prefer to stay in their hiding place. Provide them with a couple of options like shells and caves where they can rest and hide during the daytime. They will automatically emerge during feeding times, so don’t worry about not getting to observe these lovely fish.

Tip – Don’t introduce other species or additional Royal Gramma fish in the tank when they are mature. These fish are territorial and can get vicious when encountering new fish. They are likely to get into confrontations and even kill each other, so be careful of this. 

  1. Neon Goby 

If you have a small 10-gallon aquarium, the Neon Goby fish is one of the best choices. These fish don’t grow more than 2 inches when fully mature and are incredibly hardy. Caring for them is also relatively easy, making them an extremely popular choice amongst beginner aquarium enthusiasts. 

Ensure that you introduce only smaller fish species into the tank, as their size and temperament make them easy predators for larger fish. The best species to introduce into a tank with Neon Goby are Butterflyfish or Centropyge Angelfish.

Although the Neon Goby is typically peace-loving and friendly, they can be aggressive and territorial. 

When it comes to feeding, these fish are not too finicky. They thrive on a diet of various types of shrimp, like brine shrimp, table shrimp, and Mysis shrimp. They also particularly enjoy Tubifex worms, which you can occasionally feed as a treat. 

  1. Banggai Cardinalfish

With their long fins and tail, the Banggai Cardinalfish are another popular choice for nano reef tanks. These fish are native to Indonesia, so their unique color pattern is adapted to their surroundings. They feature a striped pattern and sport dark muted shades, which are perfect for blending into their environment when they feel threatened. 

In their native habitats, the Banggai Cardinalfish use the spines of sea urchin as a hiding spot, blending in seamlessly thanks to their stripes and colors. However, you don’t need to put sea urchins in your nano tank for them to feel safe. 

Fish lovers who are looking to breed marine nano fish should consider beginning with the Banggai Cardinalfish. Their friendly temperament and ease of maintenance make them an ideal breeding fish, even for beginner fish enthusiasts. 

Furthermore, these fish readily breed and are typically affectionate parents. The male species are known to engage in a process called mouth-brooding, where they pick up their partner’s eggs in their mouths. 

Lastly, they are easy to feed and will readily eat most live fish food options. The young fish are also enthusiastic and have a good temperament. Moreover, they eat the same food as adult fish, making feeding very convenient. 

  1. Dartfish

The Dartfish is also known by another name – Firefish Goby. At first glance, it is easy to figure out where they got their name from. These small fish have brightly colored fins and tails, typically in shades of vivid red and orange. Their bodies have contrasting shades of green and yellow with a bluish tinge. 

As such, the Dartfish are friendly and have a good temperament, making them a popular option for nano tanks. Moreover, they grow only up to 3 inches when fully mature, so you can consider keeping them in smaller tanks without any issue. 

Although its unique color combination is hard to miss, another physical distinction makes these fish utterly unique. They have a long body, similar to an eel, and many of them feature a split dorsal fin. This unique combination of physical attributes gives them a striking appeal. 

Beginner aquarium enthusiasts will enjoy keeping these fish as pets due to their inherent hardiness. Moreover, they are known for their ability to adapt rapidly to most aquariums, so you don’t need to worry too much about them thriving. 

Keep in mind that these fish are very intelligent and keenly observe their surroundings. It is best to offer them fresh food daily and clean the tank regularly if you want them to be happy and comfortable. Furthermore, avoid keeping them in large groups of more than four fish, as they may feel discomfort in large groups. 

  1. Swissguard Basslet

The Swissguard Basslet is relatively similar to the Chalk Bass, both of which are found in the Western Atlantic Ocean. It’s hard to miss these fish due to their distinctive appearance and nature. They sport bright horizontal stripes in a deep maroon shade across their pale yellow bodies. Their elongated eyes are also worth noticing, as it adds to their unique appearance. 

Although these fish are relatively small, reaching only 3 inches at full maturity, they have an aggressive nature and temperament. Furthermore, this species can be quite expensive, which is why most aquarium owners have only one Swissguard Basslet per tank. 

It is recommended not to add too many fish species with this particular species due to their aggressive nature. They are quick to fight with other fish species, especially ones of their kind. However, they are quite hardy and make an excellent addition to nano reef tanks. 

As for their diet, it is best to feed them pellets, live and frozen food, and small shrimp. Since they are carnivorous by nature, you can also feed them crustaceans or smaller fish species which they can prey on and eat. However, ensure that you provide them with flakes rich in protein, as it helps them grow and thrive. 

  1. Blue Chromis

Yet another popular saltwater fish species is the Blue Chromis. It is evident by its name that this fish sports a vivid blue shade, giving it a striking and royal appeal. Slightly larger than the other fish on our list, the Blue Chromis can grow up to 4 inches long at full maturity. 

As such, this fish is exceptionally peaceful and lives with other species in harmony. Their gentle and friendly temperament makes it such an excellent choice for beginners who want to breed or keep pet fish in a nano reef tank.

In their natural habitat, these fish are commonly found living harmoniously in a small community. So, this is something you can try and recreate in your nano tank at home. However, beware of overcrowding the tank with too many fish species. 

Blue Chromis are generally omnivorous so that you can keep them on a steady diet of meat and plants. Furthermore, these fish are quick to adapt to most aquarium environments and are not too picky about food. 

Those looking for a long-term companion will love the fact that these hardy fish can live up to 8 years. Moreover, with proper care and maintenance, some can even live up to 15 years!

  1. Yellow Watchman Goby

One of the most interesting saltwater fish species you can consider is the Yellow Watchman Goby. There are several fascinating facts about this fish, so let us start by telling you how it got its name.

As you may guess, the Yellow Watchman Goby sports a bright yellow shade with white polka dots all over its body. This gives it a very innocent and pretty appearance which most fish lovers appreciate. However, it gets the name ‘Watchman’ from a distinct behavioral trait. 

As such, you will find these fish perched upon the surface of a burrow, carefully observing its surroundings like a watchman. However, they can be a nervous lot, as they tend to swim away swiftly and disappear underneath a substrate when they feel threatened. 

This behavior can be fascinating to observe. When introducing this fish species in your nano tank, make sure you provide ample sand and deep substrate that they can conveniently dig into. This will make them feel safe and comfortable in their new environment in your home. 

Another interesting tidbit about this fish is their symbiotic relationship with Pistol Shrimp. The Yellow Watchman Goby has another name – Yellow Prawn Goby. The story behind how it got this name is interesting. 

Well, Yellow Watchman Gobies have excellent eyesight. However, when they are threatened or being preyed upon, they have no defense other than swimming away and hiding. This can put them in a lot of danger. However, there is good news.

Pistol Shrimp do not enjoy the excellent eyesight that Watchman Gobies have. However, they are good at attacking and defending themselves using their claws. 

Both species (Watchman Gobies and Pistol Shrimp) use their skills to protect each other and live harmoniously in nature. 

  1. Catalina Goby

We have already listed a few Goby fish, so it is evident how popular these saltwater fish species are for aquarium owners. However, it is now time to talk about one of the most beautiful Goby species – the Catalina Goby.

This fish is instantly distinguishable because of its bright orangish-red body marked with blue stripes. Although it grows only to about 2 inches long, it has a very unique and stunning appeal. These fish are ideal for keeping in smaller tanks because of their small size and relatively gentle temperament. 

One of the most striking things about its looks is the blue mask they adorn. The area around their eye features an asymmetrical blue design, making it look like they are wearing masks. When seen in a dimly lit room, their appearance can be breathtaking. 

Another essential aspect about the Catalina Goby is that they host both males’ and females’ reproductive organs. As such, they can conveniently switch between the two according to the requirements of their environment. So, if you are looking to breed saltwater fish in your nano tank, this may be a good option. 

Now, it is vital to note that these fish eat almost any kind of fish food and are not too picky. However, they can be slightly challenging to care for, which is why many beginner aquarium owners may shy away from this species. 

As long as you thoroughly research the care and maintenance these fish need to thrive, you can easily breed or keep them in your home. 

  1. Orchid Dottyback

We want to conclude our list by talking about the effervescent Orchid Dottyback. With an intriguing name as this, you may be wondering what kind of fish it is and whether you can keep them as pets. 

First off, these fish have a colorful personality, just like their bright violet bodies. Although they are relatively friendly and will interact with other fish species, they are prone to aggression. As such, they will aggressively defend their territories, especially from smaller fish species. 

If you plan on keeping other fish species with the Orchid Dottyback, ensure to introduce them early on. This helps the fish get acquainted with each other and their behaviors, preventing unnecessary battles underwater. 

Don’t worry much about what to feed them. These fish are not particularly finicky and will eat most types of fish feed. It is best to keep them on a carnivorous diet of shrimp, krill, mussels, plankton, and other protein-rich foods.

Close up of Kaudern's Cardinalfish or Longfin Cardinalfish at Thailand Ocean

Final Words

Now that you know about some of the most popular small saltwater fishes, are you ready to set up a nano tank?

Pet lovers around the world can vouch for the fact that fish make delightful companions. As long as you feed them regularly and keep their nano tanks clean, they will thrive happily and adore you for it! 

Let us know which fish species is your favorite. Comment below and share your insights with all your fellow fish lovers. You can also attach a picture of the fish in their nano tank and let us know the care routine you follow. 

Until next time! 

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