Home | Aquarium Livestock | Top 10 Most Overlooked Saltwater Aquarium Tankmates

Top 10 Most Overlooked Saltwater Aquarium Tankmates

Eileen here. Thanks to movies like Finding Nemo, Ocellaris and Percula Clownfish, Hippo Tangs, Yellow Tangs and starfish have become must-haves in many home aquariums and we all know that damsels are good hardy fish for aquarists of all levels. But what else is there? A LOT!! When customers ask for my opinion on good fish and invertebrates for their aquariums, I like to recommend something a little out of the norm. Clownfish and damsels are great, but there are a lot of other fish and inverts that deserve a little more respect! Here are a few of my favorites….

1. The “other” clownfish

Forget the standard orange-fish-with-three-white-stripes; there are a lot of other clownfish out there that don’t follow this pattern but are just as hardy and attractive. The Saddleback Clownfish is either brown or black with one white stripe over its eyes like a mask and another that covers its back like…you guessed it, a saddle. The Orange Skunk and Pink Skunk Clownfish are two more that break the mold. Each has a light, pastel body with a thin white stripe along their back. These two are more peaceful and stay smaller than other clownfish species – perfect for smaller or more docile tanks. Nemo is great, but give his “cousins” some attention too!

2.  Bannerfish

Bannerfish are closely related to butterflies but are in a category all their own. The most common type is the Longfin Bannerfish, also known as the Poor Man’s Moorish Idol. This fish looks a lot like but is a whole lot hardier (and cheaper) than the rare and touchy Moorish Idol (y’know, Gill from Finding Nemo?). They aren’t exactly “Reef Safe” and may nip at some polyps, but bannerfish are great for fish-only community aquariums.

3. Cardinalfish

Peaceful. Schooling. Reef Safe. Hardy. Might even breed in your aquarium. What more could you want? Most cardinals stay under about 4 inches and some barely reach two inches so they can be kept in even small aquariums. Most of them can also be kept in small groups so instead of having just one or two big fish, you can have the color and activity of a small school!

4. Hawkfish

Hawkfish earn their name by perching on rocks and corals, then swooping down on an unsuspecting meal (NOT good tankmates for shrimp or tiny fish), but most of the time they hop around the tank from perch to perch. Tons of personality, generally friendly towards anything too big to eat, and easy to feed. You can find hawkfish in lots of different colors and variety and with maximum sizes ranging from two to twelve or more inches.

5.  Rabbitfish and Foxfaces

These fish are some of the hardest-working but most overlooked fish in the trade! They graze on lots of different types of algae, including the notorious hair algaes and bubble algaes, and will feed on most other aquarium foods as well. They don’t bother inverts or smaller fish and most bigger fish will leave them alone. Just don’t touch their dorsal spines – they’re venomous.


6. Hamlets

Not many fish can get along in larger, more aggressive community tanks, but hamlets are one of them! These fish aren’t for community tanks with small tankmates, but they are interesting and unique additions to larger community tanks with fish like angels, tanks, groupers and triggers.

7. Jawfish

One of my personal favorites! Jawfish might not be the most visible fish for your aquarium but they may be the most fun to watch. Many jawfish will decorate the entrance to their burrow with larger pieces of substrate or shells and will spend their time guarding their little threshold while darting in and out for food. Might not be as flashy as other fish, but a whole lot more fun!

8. Polyps and Mushrooms

These are not so much overlooked as underappreciated. Sure, some hardcore collectors will pay $50+ per polyp of some rare zoanthid polyps, but most polyps and mushroom are just recommended as starter corals or as something for new aquarists to start with as they dabble in the reef side of the hobby. Polyps and mushroom can be so much more! They come in lots of different colors and varieties and will usually spread around your aquarium to form a living mat over the rocks and even on the glass. Polyps and mushrooms both are usually sold on various sizes of rocks with one or more types on a single rock. Easy to care for, undemanding, easy to propogate…polyps and mushroom deserve more respect than we give them!

9. Gorgonians

Yellow Deepwater GorgonianAquarists with low light can be very restricted with what types of corals they can keep in their tank. Gorgonians are an excellent alternative. Some species like bright green Encrusting Gorgonians benefit for decent light, but most species are strictly filter feeders and do not need light to survive. The branching forms like the Yellow Deepwater Gorgonian or fancy Sea Fans have a recognizably “coral-like” appearance with soft branches that can move and sway in the flow of your tank.

10. Leather Corals

Leather corals aren’t as popular as their flashy stony coral counterparts but they can be just as dramatic in a reef tank. Like the polyps, mushroom, and gorgonians, most leather corals are undemanding and don’t need a lot of extra care. With the exception of the rare bright yellow or green leather, most leather are shades of tan, pink and purple and don’t need a lot of light or even pristine water to thrive.

Until Next Time,



  1. avatar

    what is good for lateral line disease think you


  2. avatar

    I have a Keren Angel whith lateral line on his head.


  3. avatar

    The best thing to do is be sure the water quality is pristine and supplement the fish’s diet with selcon or a similar vitamin supplement. HLLE caused by nutritional deficiencies of essential vitamins like vitamin C. By soaking the food in a supplement and varying the diet as much as possible, you shoould be able to get a handle on the issue and prevent further erosion, though it may not heal the scars completely.

  4. avatar

    think you for the help


  5. avatar

    How long to soak food in selcon ??

    think you Dale

  6. avatar

    You can soak freeze dried until it is moist, and thawed frozen items for 10-30 minutes before feeding…it may depend on what you are soaking, but this window of time should be sufficient.

  7. avatar

    I have wet&Dry filter would it help to clean it?? or just the Bio balls? The tank has been up for about 10 years? it is saltwater.

    think you Dale

  8. avatar

    I would say there is more potential to do your tank harm by disturbing the media too much than good. You can spot clean the sump, but the bio balls hold a plethora of beneficial bacteria that helps to keep the chemistry of the tank in check. If the chemistry is stable and you’re doing regular maintenance including regular water changes, then you shouldn’t have to disturb the bioballs.

  9. avatar

    can anyone advise please? we are planning to purchase new red sea max 250 plug and go, but have been told that halide lighting is the way to go and not T5 lighting system as is supplied in red sea max? we are very confused and don’t want to get it wrong.for the sake of the fish and corals please can anyone help a novice? ta

  10. avatar

    That depends upon what types of corals you are planning to keep in your tank. T5 lighting in a tank the size of the Red Sea Max, will provide enough light for a wide variety of corals, Mushrooms, Zooanthids, soft corals, many LPS corals will thrive under T5 lights. Only the high light demanding corals and clams will require metal halide lighting.

  11. avatar

    Also, i think its neat to see in larger tanks are the schooling fish. Firefish, Anthias, and Chromis are all good choices and are just amazing to watch. Just make sure you have a cover as some of these little guys tend to jump.

  12. avatar

    Agreed, a chromis by itself can be somewhat unremarkable, but put it in a large tank with 10 or more other chromis and they have a lasting effect!

About Eileen Daub

Read other posts by

Marine Biologist/Aquatic Husbandry Manager I was one of those kids who said "I want to be a marine biologist when I grow up!"....except then I actually became one. After a brief time at the United States Coast Guard Academy, I graduated from Coastal Carolina University in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in 2004. Since then, I've been a marine biologist at That Fish Place - That Pet Place, along with a Fish Room supervisor, copywriter, livestock inventory controller, livestock mail-order supervisor and other duties here and there. I also spent eight seasons as a professional actress with the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire and in other local roles. If that isn't bad enough, I'm a proud Crazy Hockey Fan (go Flyers and go Hershey Bears!).