Starter fish for reef aquariums

Starter fish for reef aquariums

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If you’ve decided to venture into the world of saltwater, or reef, aquariums, it’s best to get started with fish that will not only be easy to care for, but will also provide the color and fun that probably drew you to reef aquarium tanks in the first place! Likely you’ll see similar results on other websites and blogs; we’re all hoping to guide you to the same sets of hardy and peaceful fish in order to get you off to a good start.

We think, when choosing starter fish for reef aquariums, that it’s always best to ask the folks working in your local aquatics store. Chances are they will know (as we do) what fish will work best for the size aquarium you have.

Another great option is to check out a fish compatibility chart like this one we found on


First, clownfish are a popular fish for aquatics beginners because they’re so pretty and colorful, easy to care for, and fun to watch. Usually, once they’ve established their “place” in your aquarium, they’ll stay there. You won’t seem them flitting about all around the tank. They’ll find home and enjoy it. If you choose to pair them with anemone, make sure you get a tank appropriately sized for the anemone itself.


Angelfish are another great option for starting your aquarium, especially Coral Beauty Angelfish and Flame Angelfish. Both adapt well to tanks and are colorful and hardy. Angelfish are also easy to find and available most of the time at your aquatics store. Be careful though: some types, like the Flame Angelfish, can nip at certain soft coral polyps and other invertebrates.


Lawnmower blennies are a great algae eater for your aquarium. It’ll produce more algae at first, as nitrate levels get adjusted, and the Lawnmower blenny will help take care of that. BiColor blennies are another great option. Both are personable fish types and provide interesting colors and patterns for your tank.

Lawnmower Blenny
Bicolor Blenny

Butterfly Fish

Butterfly fish are great in tanks with other peaceful fish. They don’t like aggressive fish. They, along with the next several fish on our list, enjoy having places to hide, so lots of rocks, nooks and crannies, and decorative castles or pirate ships work well for them.

Butterfly fish can sometimes be skeptical of fish food; if they see other fish eating, however, they’ll usually adapt more quickly.

Fire Goby

The fire goby is another great little fish. It has an interesting shape, gets along with others and enjoys having a few places to hide. Its colors make it an attractive small fish to add to your tank.

Chalk Bass

The chalk bass is a beautiful smaller fish that will also enjoy the rocks and nooks and crannies you’ve provided for the butterfly fish and fire goby. It’s a peaceful fish that will enjoy being with other peaceful fish.

Pajama Cardinal

We round out our group of fish with the pajama cardinal. Its unique patterns will set it apart from the other fish in your tank and, because it’s a slow swimmer, you’ll have more time to enjoy it as it makes its way to a nice rock behind which to hide.

If you’re considering a saltwater tank, check out our Saltwater Aquariums page. 

Also make sure to stop in and see us. We can get you set up with everything you need for a successful reef aquarium.