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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
Aquarists 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,