Types of Saltwater Fish: A Comprehensive Exploration

Dive into the vibrant world of saltwater aquariums as we explore an array of fascinating marine life in our blog on ‘Types of Saltwater Fish.’ Get ready to embark on an underwater journey filled with stunning species, unique characteristics, and valuable insights into creating a thriving aquatic ecosystem at home.

Types of Saltwater Fish in an Aquarium

If you’re someone who enjoys spending time looking at various saltwater fish, you might find it fascinating to see their different colors and beauty. With so many types of saltwater fish around, it can be a bit challenging to remember all of them. It becomes even more difficult to figure out which ones are suitable for the aquarium you’re thinking of having! 

That’s why a helpful list for each category, complete with pictures, has been compiled to make it easier for anyone interested.

Types of Saltwater Fish

Did you know there are over 20,000 types of saltwater fish? That’s a lot! People who love having fish at home in aquariums have figured out how to make some of the biggest and brightest fish feel at home in their tanks. It’s like bringing a piece of the ocean into their living rooms, and it’s been pretty successful!

  1. Reef Fish

First up, we’ve got the lively bunch that calls coral reefs home – the Reef Fish. Think of Nemo and his friends swimming around the colorful coral. These fish are like the cheerleaders of the ocean, showing off their bright colors and playful moves.

Marine Angelfish

Types of Saltwater Fish - Reef fish - Marine Angelfish

Marine Angelfish are super cool and a top choice for people who love having saltwater fish species in their aquariums. But, here’s the thing – not everyone can easily keep these beautiful fish at home. Why? Well, they can be a bit tricky to take care of because they might get too big, be a bit aggressive, or cause some concerns for the coral in the tank.

Here’s the scoop: both big and small angelfish are usually not the best roommates for coral reefs. They can be a bit picky. Big angelfish can also be a little bossy and need a really big aquarium, like one that holds at least 200 gallons of water. 


Types of Saltwater Fish - Reef fish - Butterflyfish

Butterflyfish make stunning enhancements to both fish-only and fish-only-with-live-rock (FOWLR) aquarium setups. These aquatic marvels are characterized by their size, vibrant colors, and generally calm demeanor. Nevertheless, it’s important to note that the majority of butterflyfish species are prone to nipping at corals, rendering them unsuitable for cohabitation with corals and other stationary invertebrates.


Types of Saltwater Fish - Reef fish - Anthias

Despite what many people think, a lot of the anthias types you see in aquariums aren’t actually true members of the Anthias group. Instead, most of these fish that like to swim together belong to a different group called Pseudanthias. They mainly eat tiny floating animals called zooplankton and live in groups called harems.

Anthias are cool and super colorful saltwater aquarium fish because they like being around other Anthias friends. They’re also safe for coral reefs, so they’re great for tanks with a lot of coral. But, taking care of them can be a bit tricky because they really need to have food in the water all the time.


Types of Saltwater Fish - Reef fish - Basslets

It’s not very common to find Basslets from the Lipogramma group, but sometimes you might see a few saltwater fish species like L. trilineatum, L. klayi, L. evides, and L. robinsi. These are small fish that are a bit different from those in the Gramma group because they mainly come from deep reefs in the Atlantic Ocean, not the warm areas around the Indo-Pacific.

The royal gramma (Gramma loreto) is a really popular small saltwater fish species because it’s tiny and has cool colors. However, be careful because these fish can be a bit mean and might not be the best choice for smaller saltwater tanks.


Types of Saltwater Fish - Reef fish - Cardinal Fish

In the saltwater aquarium hobby, there are only two kinds of cardinalfish: pajama cardinalfish (Sphaeramia nematoptera) and Banggai cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni). These fish are special because they carry their eggs in their mouths. They have small, round bodies and big eyes. Even though they’re not the most colorful, people like them because they are tough and easy to breed.

But be careful with the Banggai cardinal because there aren’t many of them, and too many are being caught in the wild, which is bad.


Types of Saltwater Fish - Reef fish - Clownfish

Every day, people are finding more and more types of clownfish, each with different looks and behaviors. These small and colorful fish became really famous after being in the Pixar movie, Finding Nemo. Their bright orange, black, and white stripes are now common in home reef aquariums.

The most liked kind of clownfish is the ocellaris clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris), but there are others with long or short fins, yellow or maroon colors, and different attitudes – some are friendly, and some are a bit feisty. No matter which one you pick, clownfish are a great choice if you’re just starting with a saltwater aquarium.


Types of Saltwater Fish - Reef fish - Damselfish

The most agressive fish is the Fiji blue devil damsel (Chrysiptera taupou), and the friendliest one for a community tank is the Springer’s damsel (Chrysiptera springeri). While some people have had success keeping Springer’s damsel in a community tank, there’s still a chance that your fish might get a bit aggressive. To reduce the risk, it’s good to add them to the tank last, have lots of space, keep bigger fish like beauty angelfish and tangs, and include plenty of rocks in the setup.


Types of Saltwater Fish - Reef fish - Tangs Fish

Tangs are colorful, energetic, and entertaining to observe in a reef aquarium. They love munching on algae and will keep searching the rocks for any bits of food. But, because they can grow big and are really active, many aquarium hobbyists can’t keep them. Also, some tangs, like the yellow tang (Zebrasoma flavescens), might unexpectedly get a bit aggressive.


Types of Saltwater Fish - Reef fish - Rabbitfish

Rabbitfish may not be the most common saltwater fish you find, but they can be quite helpful in a home aquarium.

In particular, the foxface lo (Siganus vulpinus) is great at eating algae and spends a lot of time picking at live rock. What makes them appealing is their ability to handle bubble algae, which can be really tough to deal with otherwise.


Types of Saltwater Fish - Reef fish - Dottyback (Yellow and Violet Fish)

Dottybacks are small and colorful fish that you can keep in a saltwater aquarium. They are known for their vibrant hues, ranging from shades of purple and pink to yellow and red. Dottybacks are generally hardy and easy to take care of, making them a good choice for beginner aquarium enthusiasts. However, some types of dottybacks can be a bit territorial, so it’s important to choose tankmates carefully to avoid conflicts. 


Types of Saltwater Fish - Reef fish - Yellow Wrasses

Wrasses fish come in all sorts of colors, but some are okay for reef tanks, and others might not be.

Some cool wrasse types include the sixline wrasse (Pseudocheilinus hexataenia), Carpenter’s wrasse (Paracheilinus carpenteri), and melanurus wrasse (Halichoeres melanurus).

Certain wrasse can help keep an eye on and control pests like marine worms in your reef tank, while others mostly rely on tiny organisms that already live in and around the rocks.


Types of Saltwater Fish - Reef fish - Hawkfish

Hawkfish aren’t as common in saltwater aquariums, especially those that stay near the bottom. These little fish get their name because they like to perch on rocks and patiently wait for live food to swim by.

Even though flame hawkfish can live with other fish and be okay for a reef tank, they are really lively and might eat smaller fish like cleaner shrimp or tiny fish. So, it’s good to keep an eye on them in the tank.


Types of Saltwater Fish - Reef fish - Blenny Fish

Blennies are a really varied group of fish that you can find in aquariums. They are calm and can be small or big, making them great for a small group of fish.

If you’re just starting with aquariums, blennies are good because they are tough, not too pricey, and easy to get. But, be careful, some blennies, especially in the Meiacanthus group, can have venom, so it’s important to know that before getting them.


Types of Saltwater Fish - Groupers - Goby Fish

Gobies are a lot like blennies but usually smaller and slimmer. Many of these little reef fish like to dig into the sand or gravel at the bottom of the tank and rely on finding bits of leftover food there. This makes them helpful members of the cleanup crew in your aquarium.

  1. Groupers and Snappers

Groupers and Snappers are some big and cool fish. These guys are like the superheroes of the sea, with their size and hunting skills.


Types of Saltwater Fish - Groupers

Groupers are big and well-liked fish in aquaculture. These saltwater fish will eat pretty much anything that can fit into their mouth, and they can grow really, really big. One example is the goliath grouper, which is in danger of disappearing and can reach 8 feet long, weighing over 800 pounds.

Red Snapper

Types of Saltwater Fish - Snapper - Red Snapper

Red snapper is a popular fish that many people like to catch and eat. They are bright red in color and live in the ocean. People often find them in warm waters, and they have a delicious taste. People enjoy fishing for red snapper because it’s fun, and the fish can be quite big. When you cook them up, they have a tasty fish, and mild flavor, making them a favorite for seafood lovers.

Yellowtail Snapper

Types of Saltwater Fish - Snapper - Yellowtail Snapper

Yellowtail snapper is another type of fish that people enjoy catching and eating. They have a distinct yellow stripe along their tail, which gives them their name. These tropical fish, snappers,  are found in warm tropical waters and are known for their flavorful and tender meat. Many anglers appreciate the challenge of catching yellowtail snapper, and once cooked, their white and flaky flesh makes for a tasty meal. 

  1. Sharks and Rays

Sharks and Rays are like an ocean royalty. Yeah, they might seem a bit scary, but they’re actually pretty awesome.


Types of Saltwater Fish - Rays - Eel Fish

Eels might not be the first choice for saltwater aquarium fish, but they can be a fantastic addition to a simple reef or predatory fish tank. While many eel species can grow to several feet in length, there are exceptions, such as the dwarf moray eel (Gymnothorax melatemus cf.), which stays under a foot long. This makes them suitable for aquariums with limited space, providing enthusiasts with the opportunity to enjoy these unique creatures in a more compact setting.

Lionfish (included here for its predatory nature)

Types of Saltwater Fish - Rays - Lionfish

Lionfish or volitan lionfish are venomous, and their spines can cause harm if touched. Handling them requires caution. Additionally, there is a related species called the Frogfin, a distinctive poisonous fish with appendages resembling legs. Both Lionfish and Frogfin are intriguing yet potentially dangerous marine creatures, emphasizing the importance of careful interaction and awareness when dealing with them.

Hammerhead Shark

Types of Saltwater Fish - Shark - Hammerhead Shark

The hammerhead shark is a fascinating creature that stands out in the ocean with its unique appearance. Known for its head that looks like a hammer, it has eyes positioned on each end, giving it an exceptional field of vision. This shark is a powerful swimmer, easily navigating through the water. With a reputation for being one of the more famous sharks, the hammerhead is often admired for its distinct shape and size. 

  1. Flatfish

Discover the wonders of flatfish, known for their unique flattened bodies and distinctive way of life. Learn about their camouflage skills and how they navigate the ocean floor.


Types of Saltwater Fish - Flatfish - Flounder Fish

Flounders come in various species, and their coloring can range from subtle browns and grays to more vibrant hues. As skilled hunters, they wait patiently for prey to approach before swiftly striking. Explore the wonders of these masters of disguise as we uncover more about their behavior, habitats, and the crucial role they play in marine ecosystems.

Atlantic Halibut

Types of Saltwater Fish - Flatfish - Atlantic Halibut

Halibut have a distinctive appearance, with both eyes positioned on one side of their flattened bodies. This unique adaptation allows them to lie camouflaged on the ocean floor, waiting for prey. They are skilled hunters, ambushing smaller fish and crustaceans.

  1. Pufferfish and Triggerfish

Immerse yourself in the captivating realm of pufferfish and tigerfish. Explore the diverse characteristics of these species, from the puffing defense mechanism of pufferfish to the striking patterns and behaviors of tigerfish.


Types of Saltwater Fish - Yellow Pufferfish

Many types of pufferfish may not be suitable for reef tanks. There’s a significant contrast between the smaller and larger fish in terms of diet, temperament, and space requirements. For instance, caring for a small and manageable saddle puffer differs greatly from maintaining a starry puffer, which demands a specialized 300-gallon setup.

Nevertheless, a common trait among these larger pufferfish is the presence of a toxin called tetrodotoxin in their skin and internal organs. It’s essential for hobbyists to note that this toxin is only harmful if ingested, posing no threat through mere contact with the skin.


Types of Saltwater Fish - Triggerfish

Triggerfish or clown triggerfish earn their name from their distinctive ability to wedge into rocks, only freeing themselves when their dorsal fin spine relaxes. In saltwater tanks, this behavior is infrequent, and these beloved fish typically stay lively and engaged, albeit displaying aggression towards other tank mates.

These groupings are not mutually exclusive, as some fish may fit into multiple categories based on their behavior and habitat. Additionally, the diversity within each group is considerable, with different species exhibiting unique characteristics.

FAQs: Types of Saltwater Fish

What are the most popular saltwater fish?

In the U.S., yellowfin and bluefin tuna are the top choices for anglers due to their strong fighting abilities. Trolling or drifting offshore are common methods to catch these sizable fish, and the thrill of getting a bite can lead to a rewarding experience.

What is the best salt fish to eat?

Determining the best saltwater fish to eat depends on personal taste preferences. Popular choices include tuna, salmon, and cod for their versatile flavors and nutritional benefits. Ultimately, the best fish is the one that suits your culinary preferences and dietary needs.

What is the most durable saltwater fish?

Many saltwater aquarists recommend clownfish as one of the hardiest and ideal choices for aquariums. Indeed, clownfish are excellent pets due to their resilience, active swimming behavior, and friendly nature, making them a fantastic addition to any saltwater tank.

Additional Resources

  1. Aquarium Store Depot – Saltwater Puffer Fish Types

Explore Aquarium Store Depot’s comprehensive guide on saltwater puffer fish types. Gain valuable insights into the diverse world of these engaging and sometimes quirky marine species.

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