Moderate to Difficult, some require expert level care
Most are highly aggressive. Some are also able to crawl about the tank and may sting anything they encounter, so take care with placement.
Strong lighting is generally best.
Moderate to intense
Regular feeding with raw meaty seafood is required to maintain long-term health.
Varies. Some require placement in the sand bed, others prefer to be placed in rock.
Stable water quality is important to anemone health. To this end it is often recommended that tanks be mature (8-10 months or more) before adding anemones.
Anemones are a varied group of soft bodied invertebrates. They include both pest animals such as the Aiptasia and the beautiful host anemones associated with clownfish, as well as an interesting variety of non-host anemones such as the Tube or rock flower anemones.
Frequently, hobbyists purchase anemones with clownfish in mind and as such we do stress that not all anemone species are natural hosts to clownfish, and not all clownfish naturally associate with all host anemone species. Many anemones also get quite large and require large amounts of space and food. Be sure you have properly researched the anemone to be certain you can accommodate it's full adult size.
Anemones often look rough immediately after shipping. The majority will recover with a little time and proper acclimation, so don’t panic and be patient!
When Shopping for Specimens:
Always research before you buy!
How big does this fish get and will you have room for it at full size? Does it get along with your other tank inhabitants? What does it normally eat and can I provide that food consistently? These and other questions must be answered if you are to be successful in keeping saltwater fish.
Avoid fish that are not eating well. Stores should be willing to feed specimens while you watch. However, be aware that at most stores fish may not eat readily for many reasons, disease or parasite infestation are just a couple potential causes.
Look for fish that appear healthy, with no cuts, torn fins, cloudy eyes, or other signs of injury or disease.
NEVER EVER BUY AN UNHEALTHY FISH THINKING YOU WILL RESCUE IT!
This only leads to the store buying more fish and treating them poorly, it's a cycle. Even though we all want every animal to be treated well and live well in captivity, rewarding a store by buying a half dead fish thinking you might revive it may seem like a noble cause but in fact just perpetuates bad stores selling poor quality fish.
Have your quarantine system ready to go when you get home. All new fish, no matter how healthy they look, should be quarantined before going into your display system.
As anyone who’s spent any amount of time investigating salt water fish for marine aquariums can tell you, there are hundreds of potential choices for your tank (and even more if you are looking at a Fish Only system rather than a Reef Tank). Therefore, it is not possible to cover every possible situation relating to fish keeping in one simple article. There are, however, some basic principles, guidelines, tips, and tricks that will be of use to most fish keepers and those we try to share here.
First some things to consider before purchasing your new fish. The ocean is, obviously, a big place. Saltwater fish naturally have a lot of space and many of them can get quite large. This is very important to keep in mind, since that cute little 2-inch baby tang you are looking at may well have a maximum adult size of over a foot and he will approach that maximum size (or something close to it) if he lives long enough in your aquarium. Make sure you know the adult size of your fish and will be able to accommodate them in your tank. Fish that are feeling cramped are much more likely to get aggressive with tank mates, to develop destructive behaviors, and to become stressed making them far more vulnerable to disease.
To that end, inches of fish per gallon and other similar rules aren’t really the best way of deciding how many fish you can house in a salt water tank. You will be much better off looking at the individual needs of the fish and your ability to meet them. Specifically, consider the detailed needs of a fish, both in terms of space and bioload. A fish that tops out around 2 feet is just not a good choice for a 3-foot-long tank while a fish that needs to be fed three times a day may not work out well if you are trying to maintain an ultra-low nutrient system. Another question might be what sort of territory does this fish need? If your tank doesn’t have very much rock work and you already have four fish that need lots of hiding spaces and holes to live in, adding a fifth fish of that sort may not be appropriate. However, you might do just fine adding a couple of free swimming fish, or a sand burrower like a jawfish, because those territories are still available.
The final thing to consider when adding fish, are their tank mates. If possible, try to plan in advance what sort of livestock you ultimately want to house in your tank. More peaceful fish should be established prior to more aggressive ones that are likely to fight with newcomers. Tangs should be added all together to minimize aggression. Most tanks can only safely accommodate one pair of clownfish, so be sure you get the species you really want. If you want lots of shrimps and crabs, adding a hawkfish, trigger, or tuskfish probably is not a good choice. Before you ever add your first fish to your tank develop a long-term stocking plan, and you’ll minimize the time you spend trying to catch and remove that long-established problem fish, as well as livestock losses from incompatibility problems.
Ok, so you’ve done the research, made the plan, and have selected your perfect new fish. Now what? It’ s time to get out there and make your purchase of course! If you have the chance to visit your local fish store in person, you will have the opportunity to inspect the fish yourself. Make sure it is eating and appears healthy with no torn fins, sores, cloudy eyes, or other clear signs of poor health. Ideally you want to see the fish out and swimming and appearing relaxed but don’t consider it an automatic deal breaker if an otherwise healthy-looking fish seems rather shy or skittish. Most fish store holding tanks do not have the same sort of hiding places your reef tank will at home. Some fish never settle down completely in this environment. They may eat and be completely healthy, but are just nervous and shy until they get into a permanent home where they feel safe. If you are ordering your new fish online, obviously you will have less of an opportunity to inspect your purchase. Look for WYSIWYG pictures where possible, and ask the retailer about the health of the fish, how long they have had it, and what it has been eating to be sure you get the best possible fish.
Another thing to consider when adding fish, are their tank mates. If possible, try to plan what sort of livestock you ultimately want to house in your tank. More peaceful fish should be established prior to more aggressive ones that are likely to fight with newcomers. Tangs should be added all together to minimize aggression. Most tanks can only safely accommodate one pair of clownfish, so be sure you get the species you really want. If you want lots of shrimps and crabs, adding a hawkfish, trigger, or tuskfish probably is not a good choice. Before you ever add your first fish to your tank develop a long-term stocking plan, and you’ll minimize the time you spend trying to catch and remove that long-established problem fish, as well as livestock losses from incompatibility problems.
Once you get your new purchase home, it’s time to quarantine. All new livestock must be quarantined before being added to your display tank and this is especially true with fish. Quarantining new arrivals allows you time to make sure they are recovered from travel stresses, healthy, and eating in a controlled environment, before adding them to your main display where they will have to compete for food and where you may not be able to treat effectively for any illnesses that might appear. For more details on how to set up and maintain a quarantine system, see our Quarantine article. One note however, it is very important to keep the lights dim initially in a Quarantine setup, especially if the fish were shipped to you. Fish have difficulty adjusting to sudden changes from very dark to very bright lighting (something they would never experience in the ocean) and it is possible to permanently blind new fish if you do not allow them time to adjust to your lights gradually.
Once your fish are ready for the final transition to your display tank there are a few tricks that can help ease the introduction. Turn the lights off and leave them that way for the rest of the day, as this will help calm down all your tank residents (and reduce the risk of accidental blindness as mentioned above). If you do notice aggression between established fish and the newcomer, try rearranging some of your rockwork. This can trick the established fish into believing they are in a new territory and cut down the aggression. Of course, if the aggression does not diminish within a reasonable time frame and it becomes clear that your new fish is being injured or not allowed to feed you may at some point must make the decision to remove either the new fish or the bully. Often in these situations removing the more aggressive fish to a quarantine or holding tank for a few days can be enough to allow the newer fish time to settle in and build some confidence, but be prepared to separate them permanently and re-home one or the other if all else fails.
What to feed, and how often, are questions we get asked all the time. It is very important to understand the dietary needs of your fish as they are not all created equally. There are lots of fish foods available, from dry flakes to frozen foods, and even live offerings. Some fish have VERY specialized diets and will starve quickly if you cannot meet those needs – and sometimes meeting them can be rather challenging (some filefish, for example, eat only Acropora coral polyps). Fortunately, most fish are not quite that demanding and can be divided into three basic groups.
Herbivores are plant eaters. These would include fish commonly associated with algae cleanup, like tangs or rabbitfish. Make sure these guys have plenty of algae to graze on for optimum health and coloration. Dried seaweed preparations such as Nori should be offered daily, especially in tanks with little natural algae growth.
Carnivorous fish eat meaty foods. Wrasses that primarily eat shrimp and other small invertebrates would be good examples. Offer a variety of meaty foods to these fish, anything from brine and mysis shrimp to clam, squid, krill, and prawn depending on the size of the fish.
Omnivores eat a variety of foods, and clownfishes are a good example. They need a little bit of everything in their diet and should be offered a wide variety of foods. Most omnivores will eat anything the herbivores and carnivores eat, and do best on mixed diets that cover both groups. If you are thinking of adding more fish to your tank don't forget to consider territorial issues, for example, if you already have four fish that need lots of hiding spaces and holes to live in, adding a fifth fish of that sort may not be appropriate. However, you might do just fine adding a couple of free swimming fish, or a sand burrower like a jawfish, because those territories are still available.
Easy to Moderate
Some crabs may become aggressive as they grow larger, generally most other inverts are not aggressive.
Most inverts do not require specific light levels and can be maintained at higher light levels used in reef aquariums or lower light levels used in fish only systems.
Most inverts do not require specific water flow levels.
Most inverts are placed on the bottom of the aquarium and will travel throughout your reef.
Once properly acclimated, most inverts are quite forgiving of water quality. It is recommended that all inverts be kept at natural saltwater parameters.
Inverts are used for utility or decorative purposes. We sell a wide variety of inverts to help control pests and algae, both individual inverts and cleanup crews. Contact us for recommendations. Pictured above is a Lettuce Nudibranch that eats a variety of algae and generally are very easy to keep in a reef aquarium.
Inverts are usually sold individually or as part of a package also known as a clean up crew. There are many such packages available depending upon your needs. Be mindful not to add too many inverts to a new tank or a tank that does not have enough food such as algae for the inverts to eat. If there is not enough algae then you might need to supplement feeding by adding Nori. In a new tank there may not be enough food for many inverts to survive so add slowly and buying a package may not be best for that situation. Clean up crew packs are usually a more economical way of buying inverts, just be sure everything in the package will have enough food and will do well in your tank.
Inverts are sensitive to changes in salinity and water chemistry. When adding them to your aquarium you must do a drip acclimation, slowly for about 1 hour or more. Starfish are extremely sensitive to changes and should be acclimated slower and longer, generally for at least 2 hours.
How To Drip Acclimate Inverts
You will need about a 6 to 8 foot long piece of 1/4 inch tubing, the more stiff type that is used on RO/DI units. This can be obtained from most home improvement or hardware stores. You can also get a plastic shut off value to control the flow rate at most of the same stores. You can also find this tubing and the valves online. It's easy to acclimate when you have this tubing and valve. Put your inverts into a container and start a siphon with the tube with one end in your tank or sump and the other end dripping into the container with your inverts. Adjust the flow so that it is a very slow steady stream and not a slow drip. Be sure not to overflow the container and have extra saltwater ready to refill your tank with the amount used for acclimation.
Small hermit crabs such as Atlantic Blue Leg Hermits or Pacific Red Leg Hermits are excellent scavengers and also eat many types of algae and stay small. It is best to avoid other types of hermit crabs because many can grow very large and will tear apart corals and other valuable livestock.
Emerald crabs are excellent scavengers and also eat many types of algae including bubble algae. They are the one animal that will consistently devour bubble algae and it is the number one reason folks buy emerald crabs. They are generally reef safe, but on occasion they may tear into corals if they don't have enough other food so be sure not to overstock.
Some types of crabs can be inadvertently added to your tank as hitchhikers on live rock or in corals. Some of these are harmless or even beneficial and others can become very destructive. It is advised that any crabs that can't easily be advised as safe should be destroyed. Quarantine all new acquisitions to prevent hitchhikers.
Peppermint Shrimp are good reef scavengers and will eat Aiptasia. Cleaner shrimp are colorful and help control parasites. There are many other types of shrimp that are attractive safe additions to your reef. Be careful when adding shrimp because many fish will eat them, such as hawkfish and larger angelfish.
Be aware that shrimp do shed their outer skeleton as they grow. You may see this skin-like skeleton laying in the tank and think the shrimp is dead, but it actually just shed. Sometimes the shrimp does not make it totally through the molting process and often they will die at that point or may become vulnerable to other reef inhabitants as food.
There are many types of herbivorous snails that are great additions to your aquarium. They include Turbo snails that are great algae mowers but can grow quite large. Astrea snails stay small and do a fairly good job eating many varieties of algae. So-called Cyano grazer snails are also excellent grazers. There are many varieties of snails and most do well in most reef aquariums. Be sure to drip acclimate because all are sensitive to water chemistry and salinity changes.
Nassarius snails are scavengers and eat left over food or dead material, they live in the top surface of the sand bed and arise when food is available.