Top 15 Nano Reef Tank Fish – #9 Is a wild card!

Have you ever wanted to keep saltwater fish but worried about the size of the tank you’ll need or the amount of room you have to house one? Well, we have the perfect answer! A nano reef tank, in this post we’ll show you the Top 15 Nano Reef Tank Fish which would be perfect for your small saltwater tank.

Not recommended for beginners but perfect for anyone who already has some knowledge of saltwater aquarium requirements. The main challenge is water quality in such a small space and resisting the urge to rush and overstock your new nano reef system.

Nano reef fish specimens must be chosen carefully to avoid overcrowding. Small fish, with the maximum adult size of only a few inches, are the best choices.

They must be introduced slowly, only a few fish at a time over a period of several weeks.This will enable the water quality to balance out and your filtration system to adjust to the increased levels of pollutants.

What is a nano reef tank?

A nano reef system is a small saltwater tank of typically 25-30 Gallons containing small saltwater fish, invertebrates and Corals and designed to look like a section of the natural reef system for a fraction of the price of a main saltwater tank. These are perfect for smaller spaces and bedrooms. They are less expensive and easier to set up than larger reef tanks.

Don’t be fooled into thinking you can’t get a natural looking reef tank in a very small space. Take a look at the tank below. It looks incredible, I’m sure you’ll agree and this tank is only 34 Gallons!

Nano reef tank
(Photo Credits @nano-reef & Podrod)

The number one issue with nano-reef systems is water quality. You’ll need to perform weekly water changes of around 10-20%. In a nano aquarium, this is only about 2-3 Gallons but even this small amount is vital.

The temperature change in a nano aquarium when conduction water changes are the main area of concern.

These small aquariums are more susceptible to changes in water quality and temperature because they contain a smaller volume of water.

When water-quality issues or temperature changes occur, they can progress quickly and place great stress on the system and can ultimately result in complete failure and loss of life.


There are even smaller saltwater tanks called Pico Reef Tank which is typically 5 gallons or less. These are definitely not for the faint-hearted and require a lot of care and attention. We’ll leave this topic for another day.

Once you have purchased your new nano-reef tank and set it up correctly ensuring all the water qualities are correct then you can start to think about introducing some lovely fish, invertebrates, and corals. In this article, we’ll look at the perfect fish for your new tank.

Getting that water quality correct is really important. For salt, I recommend this Instant Ocean sea salt that you can get on

You’ll also want some of this Fluval Conditioner to condition regular tap water to make it suitable for fish.

Many people will say that a nano reef tank is more about corals and invertebrates than fish and to some extent this is true, but we feel with the correct information you can find the perfect saltwater fish to compliment your corals and invertebrates giving the tank a more natural look.

Let’s take a look at our Top 15 Nano Reef Tank Fish

In no particular order, our top 15 nano reef tank fish are listed below. Selected for a number of reasons, color, size, care level, reef compatibility, and price. These fish will complement and add value, interest and help the eco-balance to your nano reef tank.

  1. Purple Firefish
  2. Midas Blenny
  3. Pajama Cardinal
  4. Royal Gramma
  5. Neon Goby
  6. Orchid Dottyback
  7. HighFin Goby
  8. Tailspot Blenny
  9. Pistol Shrimp ( Not a fish but great for a nano tank)
  10. Clownfish
  11. Yellow Watchman Goby
  12. Pygmy Hawk
  13. Blue Spotted Jawfish
  14. Sixline Wrasse
  15. Green Dragonet Mandarin

# 15 Green Dragonet Mandarin (Synchiropus picturatus )

Mandarin Dragonet
Scientific Name Synchiropus splendidus
Size4” Max
Tank size30-40 Gals minimum
Reef CompatibleYes
OriginWestern Pacific, Australia, Philippines
Care levelModerate
PH Level 8.1 - 8.4
Specific Gravity1.020 - 1.025

This amazing fish was first discovered by Albert Williams working in the Philippines in 1927 and has since become a firm favorite with saltwater hobbyists and it’s not difficult to see why.

They get their name Mandarinfish from their extremely bright colors evoking the robes of imperial Chinese mandarins.

These amazing looking fish are part of the perciform family Callinymidae, the dragonets which have 10 genera and over 180 species within that group.

Often called a Mandarin goby due to their body shape, but that it the only resemblance between the two. The mandarin is firmly placed in the Dragonet family.

Their amazing patterns and colors are the main attraction with this fish and the males can be distinguished by their large dorsal fin.

Three type of mandarins are commonly sold in the aquatic trade, red mandarins, Green and the spotted mandarin.

Mandarins are reef dwellers and move very slowly around the tank, therefore, making them an ideal saltwater fish for a small nano aquarium.

The number one difficulty in keeping mandarins is their diet. Mainly feeding on live copepods and amphipods, you’ll need to ensure a constant supply is given to ensure their survival.

Many mandarins introduced into a home aquarium often don’t last longer than a week or two due to the lack of live foods within their new home.

Many Mandarins introduced into a new aquarium simply refuse to eat, maybe due to stress or maybe because the food offered is not suitable. We always recommend asking to see the fish feeding in the store before you purchase one.

Then you can buy some of that same food when you purchase the fish giving you the best chance to help you fish eat from day one.

You will need to buy live copepods to feed them even if you have a refugium system that you grow copepods in they will make short work of eating all you can grow and you’ll still need to buy more to feed them.

This can be an expensive food source but is vital for their survival.

Very peaceful fish growing to a maximum size of around 4″.

Even with their difficult feeding habits, these fish make the perfect nano reef tank fish. They are only classed as difficult to keep due to their diet.

You will have no issues with the size of your nano tank, around 20-30 Gallons is fine and they will show no aggression to other fish. They are also reef safe and will not eat or harm any corals or invertebrates.

Ensure their tank mates are of similar nature as the fish do not like to be stressed or receive too much attention from others.  They are at their happiest just searching the live rock for foods and exploring holes and caves.

Read our full review of the Green Mandarin Dragonet.

#14 Sixline Wrasse

six line wrasse
Scientific NamePseudocheilinus hexataenia
Origin Indian Ocean and the western Pacific Ocean
Care LevelEasy
Reef SafeYes
Size3” Max
Tank Size 25 Gallons+

The six line wrasse, Pseudocheilinus hexataenia is found in the coral reefs of the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific Ocean at depths between 1-34 m. This very small wrasse which grows no bigger than 4″ is perfect for any nano aquarium and is totally reef safe.

One of the most attractive things about this fish to beginners is how hardy and disease/parasite resistant they are making them the ideal nano fish for beginners.

These fish can be semi-aggressive and if you’re going to add them to a tank with very quiet and peaceful fish like Mandarin Dragonets or Clownfish then make sure you add the wrasse last.

That way they won’t get too territorial when new fish are added to the aquarium.

This beautiful fish should be housed as a single wrasse unless you have a very large aquarium. They have been known to pick on and harass sick or poorly fish so keep a close eye on them.

Their coloration of Orange and Blue lines and green tail make them attractive to all aquarists new and old. Inexpensive, hardy and interesting to watch, these fish are always a good choice for smaller nano aquariums.

Feeding these fish should not prove to be an issue. They will accept most dried flake foods and live foods like Brine Shrimp, Mysis Shrimp, and Bloodworms.

After introducing one to your aquarium it may take a day or two for them to eat dried foods but you’ll find they will nip and eat foods from your live rock straight away. They won’t harm corals or invertebrates hence making them reef safe.

Throughout the day these fish will swim around searching for pods/micro fauna all day long to eat. At night, they make a mucous bubble around their body and wedge themselves between rocks and sand.

This disguises their scent so they can be safe from other predators. As soon as the lights come back on normal activity with resume and they’re quickly back on the hunt for food.

Adding the Six Line Wrasse into our Top 15 nano reef tank fish list was a no-brainer! Every nano tank I’ve ever owned has had one of these fish in.

A good mixture of bottom feeder, rock-dwelling, and open water swimmers adds interest to your tank. These fish will certainly add excitement and interest into your aquarium.

# 13 Blue Spotted Jawfish

Blue Spotted Jawfish
Scientific NameOpistognathus rosenblatti
OriginGulf of California and Mexico
Care LevelMedium
Reef SafeYes
Size3-4” Max
Tank Size30 Gallons

The Blue Spotted Jawfish makes a fascinating addition to any mature reef aquarium, this fish is full of character and will make an interesting addition to any nano reef tank.

First discovered in the Tropical Eastern Pacific in 1991 by Allen and Robertson, this fish has since become a staple fish in many nano aquariums.

Providing you give these fish the correct environment they will thrive in a nano reef tank.  In the iwld, they can be found in and around the Gulf of California and Mexico (also known as the Sea of Cortez), at depths between 10-28m (30-100ft).

The waters in this area are colder than the waters where most popular saltwater fish come from, and this must be taken into account if planning to keep this species in the home aquarium. In warmer summer months you’ll need to keep a close eye on the temperature of your tank.

The second key requirement for keeping this fish in your home aquarium is the substrate you use. As they are bottom dwellers and like to burrow in the substrate and under rocks, you’ll need to use the right type of sand.

If the sand is too fine it will make for an unstable burrow and could cause it to collapse and even topple the rocks onto your Blue Spotted Jawfish. A good mixture is around 75% coral sand, and 25% small pieces of reef rubble.

This will make the ideal substrate for them to build their new home safely. Also, ensure the sand is 3″ in depth minimum.

The Blue Dot Jawfish is known to be a jumper, so it is best kept in an aquarium with a tight-fitting lid to prevent escape.

If you provide a suitably sized tank, around 30 Gallons with the correct temperatures and substrate then there’s no reason why these fish won’t thrive within your nano reef tank.

It cannot be overemphasized how important the water temperature is. Keep the water temperatures cooler and they will be fine.  Normal saltwater conditions of 71-76° F, pH 8.1-8.4, sg 1.020-1.025, KH 8-12 will be perfect.

Test your water weekly with a good quality test kit. We like the API Saltwater Test Kits available from Amazon.

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In the wild, these fish mainly feed on zooplankton. Provide them with a varied diet of small meaty frozen foods such as plankton, vitamin-enriched brine shrimp, Mysis, and finely chopped krill, prawns, cockles and mussels.

If you have a refugium then this will be very beneficial in providing a natural and welcomed food source.

This fish has to be classed as Moderate care level due to the cooler water temperatures but is still worth a look if you want a beautiful, interesting bottom dweller for your nano aquarium.

# 12 Pygmy Hawk  

Pygmy Hawkfish-fishkeeping forever
Scientific NamePlectranthias sp.
Care LevelModerate
Reef SafeWith Caution
Tank Size30 Gallons

The Geometric Pygmy Hawkfish, Plectranthias sp., also known as the Geometric Pygmy Perchlet or the Hi Fin Perchlet is a very sort after fish for nano reef enthusiasts.

There are perfect for nano reef tanks and will not harm any corals, invertebrates or shrimps. Although there have been reports of them eating small shrimps so be careful if you’re adding smaller shrimps.

They are great reef dwellers in community tanks and only grow to around 2″ in size making them ideal for smaller nano tanks.

This Perchlet is actually a member of the anthias family, however, they do resembles a hawkfish hence the name.

They can be found in the wild in areas of rich coral growth and clear water (lagoons, channels or seaward reefs) at depths of up to 35-40 m.  Found in the Indo-Pacific region, the Red Sea and the Eastern Pacific.

This is a relatively new species to the saltwater aquatic trade and is in high demand. This hardy fish can be hard to come across in your local pet store or aquarium shop so if you see one, snap it up!

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Provide your Pygmy Hawkfish with a variety of marine meats, frozen preparations, and live feeder shrimp. Bottom-dwelling invertebrates and zooplankton are also its favorite food.

It will sit on rocks and corals waiting for food to come by, sometimes they can be shy and often take themselves away behind a rock and hide for days at a time.

This is nothing to worry about, every fish ( and humans ) needs some time away every now and then.

Provide plenty of rocks, ledges, and shelves for them to sit on and they will feel right at home.

# 11 Yellow Watchman Goby

yellow watchman goby
Scientific NameCryptocentrus cinctus
Care LevelEasy
Reef SafeYes
Tank Size10+ Gallons

If there are a couple of perfect relationships between different species of saltwater fish, shrimp and invertebrates like clownfish and anemones, cleaner wrasse and bigger fish then the yellow watchman goby and the pistol shrimp has to fit into that list somewhere.

In my opinion, if you own a Yellow Watchman Goby or you’re thinking of buy one then you must keep it with an Alpheus spp. pistol shrimp (e.g., Alpheus bellulus, the tiger pistol shrimp).

In this mutualistic symbiotic relationship, the pistol shrimp, who has very poor eyesight, continuously digs and builds the burrow while the goby stands guard against predators.

Almost at all times, the shrimp keeps at least one of its antennae in contact with the goby so it can immediately sense when danger is near via the goby’s body language.

Native to the Western Pacific, where it can be found at depths of from 1 to 25 metres in coastal bays and lagoons.

The Yellow Watchman Goby has a torpedo-like body shape with two distinct dorsal fins and a rounded caudal fin. They have the typical goby fused pelvic fins with high-set bulbous eyes and an oversized, “frowning” mouth.

This is one of the main characteristics of the Watchman Goby. Who can resist that sad frowning face?

Growing to around 4″ maximum in size these fish make the perfect reef aquarium tank mates. Peaceful, interesting and relatively hardy they would always one of my first picks for any nano reef tank.

These fish are very peaceful but will become territorial and will fight with its own kind unless they are a mated pair. It may try to jump out of the aquarium or other small openings, therefore, a tight-fitting lid is required to prevent escape.

Feeding these fish should prove no issue at all, in time they will accept most meaty foods and sometimes even dried flake foods that drop to the bottom of the tank.

Provide them with a healthy variety of foods such as mysis and brine shrimp, chopped clam or crustacean flesh, or frozen carnivore blends, at least twice daily and they will be just fine.

If you’re looking to at an interesting goby to add to your reef tank then we highly recommend these fish and with a pistol shrimp, you have a winning combination. Definitely in our top 15 nano reef tank fish list and probably always will be.

#10 Clownfish

clownfish and anemone-fishkeeping forever
Scientific NameAmphiprion ocellaris
Care LevelEasy
OriginMost are now Captive Bred
Tank Size20+ Gallons

On the release of the film Finding Neno, this fish shot to the rankings of the most sort after saltwater fish for new fishkeepers. But even before the launch of this film, the Clownfish was already a favorite amongst aquarists due to there amazing personalities and close relationship with anemones.

For many years the common clownfish has been featured in most reef and nano aquariums but in recent years there have been many more varieties that have become available to the public like the Picasso Clownfish and Madagascar Clownfish.

These fish are rare compared to the common clownfish and command a very high price.

These fish also have a grading system to judge the quality and price. One of the best places to find rare clownfish and learn how to grade them is Sea & Reef Aquaculture.

This company also breeds many new varieties so you have never had so many colors and varieties to choose from.

An amazing fact about these fish is that all anemonefish, including clownfish, are hermaphrodites. They are all born male and have the ability to turn themselves female when needed, but once the change is made, they can’t go back to being male.

Sometimes the change is made when mating or when the lead female of the group dies. Two males will become mates and the larger, dominant fish will become the female.

Most clownfish are now captive bred.  The Captive-Bred Ocellaris Clownfish has other unique advantages over wild-harvested species. For one, the Captive-Bred Ocellaris Clownfish are hardy and more accustomed to conditions found in home aquariums.

Therefore, it makes a great choice for beginners and experienced aquarists alike. The Captive-Bred Ocellaris Clownfish can also be kept with a variety of other captive-bred clownfish if introduced into the aquarium at the same time.

After the rise in popularity of Ocellaris Clownfish thanks to Finding Neno we are glad that most clownfish found for sale to the hobbyist are now captive-bred, this will help protect the fragile reef environments of the world.

You should definitely consider a pair of clownfish for your nano reef aquarium, and we’d also suggest you look at some of the less common varieties on offer. Slightly more expensive but more exclusive!

# 9 Pistol Shrimp

Scientific NameAlpheus randalli
Care LevelEasy
Reef SafeYes
Tank Size20 Gallons

The Pistol Shrimp got their name from the loud snapping sound and a startling jet of water which result from the rapid closing of their modified claw. This behavior is primarily a defense mechanism against predatory fish.

Several pistol or ‘snapping’ shrimps of the genus Alpheus associate a close relationship with gobies in the wild in and around the Indo-Pacific in areas of sand and rubble in relatively shallow water of the coral reef.

In the home aquarium, there is no better or closer relationship than with these to species. Okay, Maybe the clownfish and anemone have the same tight relationship also.

The Pistol shrimp have very poor eyesight and uses their relationship with different gobies like the Yellow Watchman Goby to ensure they have a safe home and plenty of food.

They gobies warn of danger and provide food whilst the shrimps use their massive claws in comparison with their body size do dig and build big enough homes for both the shrimp and gobies to inhabit.

The  Pistol shrimp maintains close contact at all times with the goby, using its long and highly sensitive antennae, while the goby primarily uses subtle movements of its tail to warn the shrimp if danger is imminent.

It truly is an amazing sight to see these two working together in perfect harmony, their evolutionary connection is perfect for the survival of both species.

Both species can be housed singly without issues but having both in a small nano reef tank adds a different level of interest. I could and often do watch mine for hours darting in and out of their hole together, watching out for each other every step of the way.

Providing the correct conditions is very important for these shrimps, you’ll need at least 2″ of fine substrate mixed with some course substrate to ensure the hole they dig out won’t collapse on them. We use CaribSea 0.5 Sand available on Amazon at a great price.

Plenty of live rocks will be needed to provide a suitable location for them to make their home.

Feeding the shrimp won’t prove too difficult, provide a mixture of meaty food, live foods and eventually dried foods. They will eat a wide variety of foods once established in their new home. In the beginning, they will prefer live brine shrimp and mysis shrimp.

 # 8 Tailspot Blenny

tailspot blenny

Scientific NameEcsenius stigmatura
Care LevelEasy
Feeding HabitsAlgae strips, Algae flakes, Frozen foods, freeze dried foods.
Reef SafeYes
Tank Size10 Gallons Minimum
Breeding Difficult
Suitable tank matesShrimps,Clownfish, Dwarf Angelfish, Wrasse, Damsels, Filefish
Recommended first fish?Yes
Jumper?Yes, they often jump out so cover the aquarium
Lifespan3-5 Years

This is one of the smaller blenny species which make it perfect for a nano aquarium. With their big eyes and frowning mouth these little fish make an interesting addition to any saltwater tank.

Found in the wild sheltering in and around shallow coral reefs off the Western Pacific at around 15 metres (50 ft). They are found in variable colors ranging from grey to a coppery brown-orange and with a grey-blue head.

The iris is yellow and a blue-black and bright yellow-orange double line run from below the eye across the gill cover. They have a distinctive black spot at the end of their tail hence the name Tailspot Blenny.

Tank size should be 10 Gallons plus with plenty of rocks and hiding places. These shy and nervous fish will need plenty of places to hide and should be housed with very peaceful tank mates.

The diet of the Tail Spot Blenny should include vegetable matter, including frozen and dried foods containing marine and blue-green algae. It will also feed on algae growing in the aquarium which is a good way to control unwanted algae.

The Tailspot Blenny has a unique ability to turn their heads which make them seem almost human!  Their faces are full of expression & combined with their antics makes them one of the most interesting Nano Reef Tank Fish available.

I have found these hardy fish fine with most reef aquarium tank mates but not very tolerant of other Blennies unless you have a much larger tank than your typical 30 Gallon Nano reef tank.

To house more than one of these species we would recommend around 70-80 Gallons+.

The Tailspot Blenny, Ecsenius stigmatura is one of the most interesting fish you could buy for a nano tank and priced at around $20-$40 they are always on my list of fish for a new nano aquarium.

# 7 HighFin Goby

highfin goby
Scientific NameStonogobiops nematodes
Care LevelModerate
Tank size20 Gallons
Reef SafeYes

The Hi Fin Red Banded Goby makes an excellent “Nano Fish” and does well in any peaceful reef aquarium. It will pair nicely with the poorly sighted pistol shrimp. This unique symbiotic relationship is fascinating to watch. The goby serves as a lookout while the nearly blind shrimp keeps their burrow dug out and tidy. They will get along well with other shrimp gobies.

The Hi Fin Banded Goby is also referred to as the Striped Goby or the Blackray Shrimp Goby.  The fish are beautifully colored with four diagonal brown stripes across a white body and a distinctive yellow head making them unmistakable.

Keep a tightly fitted lid on your nano reef tank at first because the Hi Fin Red Banded Goby are known to jump out of the tank especially when first introduced.

They’re perfectly suited to any reef aquarium with plenty of live rocks, caves and hiding places. Ensure the correct substrate is provided. Sand that is fine but also has a mixture of coarse sand to allow them to build a stable burrow without fear of collapsing.

The shrimp that forms a bond with the Hi Fin Goby will do all the housework and the Goby will help provide the food making them a formidable pair.

The Hi Fin Red Banded Goby has been successfully bred in the home aquarium and I have been lucky enough to witness this amazing feat in my own reef aquarium.

Unfortunately, the fry were all eaten by my Humbug Damsel as soon as they tried to leave the burrow. ( Damm you Humbug Damsel )

Their diet should consist of mysis shrimp, vitamin-enriched brine shrimp, and finely chopped meaty foods. It needs to be fed at least two-three times per day.

When first added to the aquarium it may not eat for several days, but once acclimated they will begin eating fine, even accepting good quality dried flake foods.

# 6 Orchid Dottyback  

orchid dottyback
Scientific NamePseudochromis fridmani
Care LevelEasy
Tank Size 30-40 Gallons+
Water Conditions72-78° F, dKH 8-12, pH 8.1-8.4, sg 1.020-1.025
Reef Compatibleyes
Color Purple, Red
Feeding Habits2-3 Times a day
Life SpanOn average 5-7 years
Tank DecorationRocks,Caves, Corals
Price$40-$70 Depending on Size and color

The Orchid Dottyback (Pseudochromis fridmani) is found in large numbers in the Red Sea, where it is typically found taking refuge amongst small holes in vertical rock faces, corals or beneath overhangs, to depths of 60m (200ft).

I’ve written a complete guide to the Orchid Dottyback, so be sure to check that out because this is one of my FAVORITE fish of all time.

Now a staple fish sold to most nano reef aquarists these fish can be found in most stores, widely available and at very low prices. They are one of the most sociable and peaceable of the Dottyback species hence they are sold in large numbers.

The Orchid Dottyback should be one of the last fish added to any aquarium, otherwise, they will show aggression towards any newcomers introduced.

Classed as semi-aggressive they will prey on small ornamental shrimps, fanworms, and bristleworms, and will pester small and docile fish. 

Despite their initial shyness and small size, this beautiful small fish is best suited to a moderately aggressive community aquarium of medium-sized fish that can look after themselves.

This fish is often confused with the Strawberry Fish (Pseudochromis porphyreus), but can be distinguished by the black stripe running across its head and over its eyes.

Feeding this fish is not an issue, they will happily accept a variety of meaty foods such as Mysis shrimp, vitamin-enriched brine shrimp, plankton, krill, mussels. Some specimens will take prepared foods such as marine flake and pellets.

This species has been bred in captivity and captive bred fish are available to the public and make for better home aquarium fish over wild caught. Trade bred fish will accept more food from day one and are hardier in the home aquarium.

# 5 Neon Goby  

neon goby
Scientific NameElactinus oceanops
Care LevelEasy
Reef SafeYes
OriginMost are Captive Bred
Tank Size10 Gallons

Elacatinus is a genus of small marine gobies, often known collectively as the neon gobies. Although only one species, E. oceanops, is technically a “neon goby,” due to their neon stripe, color and appearance, other members of the genus are generally labeled neon gobies.

Neon Blue Goby, (Elactinus oceanops) is a very hardy fish and because of its small size, it makes a great addition to smaller nano reef aquariums.

They are very peaceful fish but don’t be fooled by their peaceful nature, they will defend their territory and often argue with other Gobies unless it’s a mating pair.

In the wild, which is the warmer waters of the West Atlantic, including the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexicothey feed on parasites picked off larger reef fish make up a portion of the Neon Blue Goby’s natural diet.

However, in the home aquarium, the Neon Blue Goby needs to be fed a variety of live and frozen brine shrimp, frozen mysis shrimp, table shrimp, and frozen food preparations for carnivores.

In the right environment, the Neon Blue Goby has been known to spawn in nano reef tanks, laying its eggs in a crevice or empty shell.

This stunning little saltwater fish will make a great addition to any reef tank.

# 4 Royal Gramma

royal gramma
Scientific NameGramma loreto
Family NameGrammidae
Temperament Peaceful
Care LevelEasy
Reef SafeYes
Origin Caribbean, Tropical Western Pacific
Tank Size30+ Gallons

The Royal Gramma is often confused with a similar looking fish called the False Gramma. The true Royal Gramma can be light purple in color to a deep violet starting at the head which fades mid-body to a golden yellow at the tail.

The Royal Gramma will also have a small black spot on the front of the dorsal fin and a black line that streaks through the eye.

It resembles the false gramma with the two main differences between the two being the false gramma has clear fins and does not fade, but rather has a distinct change in color.

These fish are also commonly known as the fairy basslet, part of the family Grammatidae they are native to the reefs in the tropical waters of the western Atlantic Ocean.

Often found in the deep waters of the Caribbean hiding and living in the rocks and coral faces they prefer extensive rockwork caves in the home aquarium to hide and also prefer subdued lighting.

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These fish are purchased for two reasons, their striking colors and their hardy, easy to keep nature. The Royal Gramma is a beginner friendly, low maintenance and peaceful saltwater fish.

They are highly recommended for new aquariums and beginners as they adapt easily to their new home and start to feed on day one.s territorial aggression towards its own kind, the Royal Gramma Basslet should be housed singly.

Identifying the gender at birth is not possible as all  Royal Grammas are born females. However, in a shoal, the most dominant fish has the ability to change sex and turn into a male.

The male will grow larger than the females and the ventral fins will also be larger making it easier to sex. In addition to this, males generally have more vibrant colors than the females.

On first introduction to their new home ensure you have a tightly fitted hood/lid to prevent them jumping out of the tank. Once they have settled into their new home you should be okay to remove the lid.

The Royal Gramma is a peaceful fish which would make a fantastic addition to most saltwater aquariums.

In general, they will be fine with other gentle reef fish like Cowfish, Clownfish, Dwarf Angels, Gobies, Jawfish, Hawkfish, Rabbitfish, Firefish, Filefish, Corals, and Invertebrates.

# 3 Pajama Cardinal
pyjama cardinal

Scientific NameSphaeramia nematoptera
Care LevelEasy
OriginFiji, Indonesia, Sri Lanka
Reef SafeYes
Tank Size20 Gallons

Pajama Cardinalfish(Sphaeramia nematoptera) are very peaceful fish that will blend perfectly into any community saltwater nano aquarium.

Pajama Cardinalfish should be kept in small schools in suitably sized reef aquariums but will also live perfectly in nano reef tanks of around 30 gallons.

Because the pajama cardinal is a very slow swimmer and peaceful fish it should be housed with similar natured species.

Sometimes known as the Polka Dot Cardinal or Spotted Cardinal they have an incredibly unique color and pattern on its entire body making them a very popular small saltwater fish suitable for nano reef tanks.

The Pajamas Cardinalfish can grow to be about 3-4″ when fully matured. Keep these wonderful fish in a tank with plenty of live rock or plants to offer hiding places during the day. The Pajama Cardinal has a nocturnal living habit and will be most active during the night.

They are an excellent choice for beginner and experienced aquarists like as they are active, friendly, hardy, and easily adapt to any saltwater tank quickly.

Pajama Cardinals are carnivorous and should be fed a diet of vitamin-enriched Brine or Mysis shrimp, along with other finely chopped meaty preparations. They are normally easy to feed and should accept a variety of foods. However, If you are finding the Cardinalfish is having difficulties eating, it can be best to feed the Pajama Cardinal at night.

This mouthbrooding species has spawned in the home aquarium successfully. Once the eggs are released and then fertilized, the male fish incubates them in his mouth for several days prior to releasing the tiny larvae into the water column. The larvae are extremely challenging to feed. Rotifer cultures/plankton are required which is often the main challenge in breeding this species of saltwater fish.

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# 2 Midas Blenny

midas blenny

Scientific NameEcsenius midas
Care LevelEasy
Reef safeYes
Size6” Max
Tank Size30 Gallons
OriginAfrica, Fiji, Indonesia, Maldives

Midas Blenny (Ecsenius midas) is an excellent candidate for a nano reef tank. It is a beautiful small fish, deep golden-yellow with a shadow of blue under the chin and bright, blue-rimmed eyes.

The Midas Blenny is from the Indo Pacific and is totally reef safe. The Midas Blenny is found on reef ledges anywhere from close to the surface to 125 Feet deep.

Here they can be found living amongst large schools of anthias. With similar colors, people say the Midas blenny are mimicking the anthias but in truth, they live amongst them for safety.

Midas Blennies are generally peaceful but should not be trusted with smaller planktivores, firefish, or gobies. However, they are most likely to show territorial aggression if kept in very small aquariums. They are safe in nano reef tanks of 30 Gallons provided it is not overstocked.

These fish have the ability to change color on demand and often do depending on their mood they often change color to match their surroundings.

Midas Blenny are expert jumpers and a tightly fitted lid is advisable. We would also only recommend keeping one per tank unless you can find a mated pair.

Ensure your tank has good circulation and contains plenty of live rock with lots of small nooks and crannies for the Midas Blenny to perch upon and hide amongst. You will often see them reversing into the hole.

This species has spawned in the home aquarium, although there are no successful reports of raising the young.

Feed 2-3 times a day on a variety of foods consisting of meaty and vegetable foods such as Mysis shrimp, vitamin-enriched brine shrimp, plankton, also finely chopped mussels, krill, and cockles are also great foods for Midas Blenny.

# 1 Purple Firefish

purple firefish
Scientific NameNemateleotris decora
Care LevelEasy
Reef SafeYes
Tank Size20 Gallons

The Purple Firefish, or Purple Dartfish, Decorated Dartfish, or Flame Firefish as they are sometimes called was first discovered in the Indo-west-Pacific Ocean in 1973 by Randall and Allen.

This fish has become one of the most popular small saltwater fish for nano aquariums and reef tanks and looking at their amazing colors and behaviors it’s no surprise.

This list of the Top 15 nano reef tank fish is in no particular order but if we had to put one at number 1 then this fish would certainly be in the running.

It will rarely become aggressive towards other fish, but is territorial, and will fight with its own kind unless they are a mated pair

The stunning Purple Firefish is known from rubble patches at the bases of reefs at depths between 25 and 70 metres. In the wild, they are often found in pairs but in a home aquarium, they are best kept singly unless you can find a true mated pair.

In the wild, they can be in the outer reef drop off zones where currents are particularly vigorous feeding on zooplankton.

In the home aquarium, you’ll need to feed them a variety of meaty foods and a refugium for producing an ongoing supply of plankton would be extremely beneficial in keeping these fish well-nourished.

Final Thoughts

Nano reef tanks are very special aquariums, size isn’t everything someone once said and that’s very true when it comes to saltwater aquariums.

Would it be nice to have a 300 Gallon fully stock reef tank? Yes, but not everyone has the thousands of pounds it would cost to set one up and even more to stock.

When you can buy a suitable fish tank for less than $260 then a nano reef tank makes sense. We love the Coralife BioCube available from Amazon as a perfect size nano tank.

We highly recommend you look at all the amazing invertebrates and corals available to you before you start to stock your tank. Read our post ” Best invertebrates for saltwater tanks” before you start to buy fish for your new tank.

You need the right mix of fish, corals, and invertebrates to make the perfect nano tank. Careful selection and planning is needed before you rush into stocking your tank.

Shrimps are one of my personal favorites in a small saltwater tank, full of personality and character they make the perfect inhabitance of a nano tank.

Your choice of fish for such a small aquarium is huge, you’ll be surprised when you start to look at suitable fish and invertebrates. Think outside the box and remember to look at more unusual stock for your tank like crabs, shrimps, and even snails. They will add something different to your tank. 

Take a look at another one of our posts, saltwater fish for beginners. 

We hope you find the perfect fish for your nano aquarium and found this guide of the top 15 nano reef tank fish useful.

Let us know what fish you would introduce into your nano reef tanks.

Good luck and happy fishkeeping forever.

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