Fish Rap Sheet

Let’s face it, we have all killed our fair share of saltwater fish and invertebrates. I started keeping a reef tank in early 2003 and have had many highs and lows in my fish husbandry ever since. Each animal is a learning experience and I wanted to share my first-hand knowledge with fellow reefers. Below is a brief description of why I succeeded or failed miserably at keeping fish alive long-term in my aquarium (alphabetical order).

Black Cap Basslet (Gramma melacara)
Time kept: 4 months
Outcome: mixed
Notes: I lost my black cap basslet due to an untimely carpet surfing incident, but really enjoyed the fish prior to that. It picked an overhang in my tank and stuck fairly close to it, but still had plenty of personality. It ate any prepared food I put in the tank and did well with tank mates. I would consider getting one again if I could find a decent price (they are generally pretty expensive), but I would make sure to have a screen over my tank!

Black Footed Lionfish (Parapterois Heterura)
Time kept: 4 months
Outcome: failure
Notes: a stunning, but difficult fish. This little lionfish was easy to transition to prepared foods, but was too timid to stick up for itself against aggressive tank mates and eventually became overly stressed and died. In hind sight, I should have done a little more research and put this fish in its own tank or with very peaceful, slow moving tank mates.

Cherub (Pygmy) Angel (Centropyge argi)
Time kept: 2 years
Outcome: successful
Notes: I successfully kept my pygmy angel for around 2 years until I lost it in a tank crash. It was a model citizen, although it was kept with mostly larger tank mates. It left my corals alone as well and ate any food put in this tank. Pygmy angels are very active swimmers who will spend the day cruising around grazing on algae so make sure to provide plenty of rock work and good structure.

Coral Banded Shrimp (Stenopus hispidus, Stenopus zanzibaricus)
Time kept: 5 years
Outcome: successful
Notes: I have kept 3 coral banded shrimp, the first 5 years, the second for 2, and the third for 1 years and still going strong. Each have had differing personalities. My first CBS was very territorial and would vigorously defend itself when it felt threatened, but was always out and about. I kept it for around 5 years until it passed away from old age (presumably). The second was a sub species with bright yellow on its abdomen. It was extremely timid and I almost never saw it. After a couple years of never seeing the shrimp, I bought another CBS, a regular white and red one, and hoped the two could coexist. It turned out that they couldn’t and the larger white and red shrimp killed the smaller yellow variety. The new shrimp was out most of the time, although not as much as my first. Coral banded shrimp have reputations as fish killers, but I have only seen my shrimp become aggressive when they feel threatened. However, I am sure a hungry enough shrimp would have no trouble taking down a small or sick fish.

Coral Beauty Angel (Centropyge bispinosa)
Time kept: 1 year
Outcome: successful
Notes: this was one of my first fish and still one of my favorites. It was hardy, active, peaceful, and ate anything I put in the tank. I lost it due to an ich infection from an improperly QT’d fish but would get another in a heartbeat. Make sure to provide plenty of properly aqua-scaped rock work for grazing and swimming.

Falco Hawkfish (Cirrhitichthys falco)
Time kept: 1.5 years
Outcome: successful
Notes: I lost this fish in a tank crash, but it is still one of my favorite fish. My falco hawk was very interested in people walking by the tank and would always perch as close to the glass as possible to check them out. It was very hardy, ate any food put in the tank, and played nice with tank mates. I would definitely consider getting another.

Firefish (Nemateleotris magnifica)
Time kept: 8 months
Outcome: successful
Notes: a cool little fish, but rather timid with aggressive tank mates. Make sure to provide a lid as they frequently jump. Mine ate pretty much anything and was a healthy fish until I introduced an improperly QT’d fish and lost most of my tank to ich.

Fuzzy Dwarf Lionfish (Dendrochirus brachypterus)
Time kept: 2.5 years
Outcome: mixed
Notes: I have had two of these interesting little lions. Both were easily weaned onto prepared foods and model reef citizens. I kept my first fuzzy for around a year before trading back to the store so I could keep smaller fish. My second I had for two and a half years before it abruptly stopped eating. From my research, it appears that this is common in fuzzies if not fed a varied enough diet. I was feeding mysis, uncooked de-shelled de-veined shrimp, and salmon. Apparently, this was not varied enough and I can’t help but blame myself. I will no doubt get another fuzzy dwarf lion as they are one of my favorite fish, but I will go out of my way to provide it a VERY diverse diet.

Green Mandarin Dragonette (Synchiropus splendidus)
Time kept: 2 years
Outcome: successful
Notes: I kept a mandarin in a well-established 60 gallon cube with a refugium for a couple years before a tank crash, but I would change my fish stock if I were to do it again. Although my mandarin was healthy and seemed to get enough food, it never really “fattened up” like some I have seen. If I were to try another in a 60 gallon, I would not keep it with any other pod-eaters to maximize the amount of copepods and amphipods available. Even if a mandarin eats prepared foods such as mysis shrimp, these fish feed continuously throughout the day and would need to be fed as such (this is impossible) in a smaller tank or with food competition.

Marine Betta/ Comet Grouper (Calloplesiops altivelis)
Time kept: 6 months
Outcome: successful
Notes: A very cool looking fish.  One was a smaller specimen kept many years ago and one is an adult that I had more recently.   I easily weaned both onto prepared foods, but found each to be very different fish. The first (smaller one) was rather shy and only very rarely flared out its spectacular fins. I eventually traded it back to the pet store for a more active swimmer. My second was the polar opposite and is always out and about flaring his fins at the glass and begging for food.  Unfortunately, it was killed by my maroon clown when lost it’s mind and killed everything in the tank.  Marine bettas make a nice addition to a tank without inverts or small fish but it seems like some will be hiders while others are much more bold.

Maroon Clownfish (Premnas biaculeatus)
Time kept: 3/31/2004 – present
Outcome: successful
Notes: the hardiest fish I have ever kept, it has survived countless moves and a couple tank crashes. Eats anything thrown in the tank but I keep the diet varied among flakes, pellets, and frozen seafood. EXTREMELY territorial and will harass other fish mercilessly. I had kept this fish for over 10 years and it had always been territorial bordering on abusive, but nothing too bad.  However, it completely lost it’s mind one day and killed almost everything in my tank:  marine betta, royal gramma, coral banded shrimp, emerald crabs.  The only fish to survive was my potters angel and even that was very beat up and only saved in the nick of time by trapping the murderous maroon clown.  The clown now resides in a smaller tank by itself until I can figure out something to do with it.  Never again will I add this type of fish to a reef… maybe to a FOWLR with all larger fish.

Pearly Jawfish (Opistognathus aurifrons)
Time kept: 2 months
Outcome: failure
Notes: this is a timid fish! I made the mistake of introducing it to a tank with aggressive, established tank mates and it would not come out enough during feeding time to eat properly before being chased back into its burrow. If I were to try another, it would be in a tank with a deep sand bed by itself or with small, slow moving tank mates.

Peppermint Shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni)
Time kept: 1 year
Outcome: successful
Notes: I really enjoyed keeping these very active little shrimp… until they started munching on my soft corals. If I ever do a fish-only tank I would consider getting another, but never again in my reef tank!

Potters Angel (Centropyge potteri)
Time kept: 7/10/2012 – present
Outcome: successful
Notes: this fish has a reputation for being difficult so I don’t know if I should attribute my success with it to luck or skill. I did make sure the fish was in great health at the store, not beat up, and eating prepared foods before I bought it. It has held its own when competing for food and territory with aggressive tank mates. I keep its diet varied, although it can be a bit finicky when introducing new foods and seems to always be grazing on the rock work and glass. Be sure to give this fish plenty of room and structure as it is a very active swimmer.

Radiant Wrasse (Halichoeres iridis)
Time kept: 2 years
Outcome: successful
Notes: I unfortunately lost my radiant wrasse in a move. Before that, it was a beautiful fish which constantly patrolled the tank for pods and pests. While it was shy at first and hid in the sand bed for a day or two, it eventually warmed up and ate any food I threw in the tank. It was a peaceful wrasse with tank mates and I never saw if pick on any inverts to boot.

Red Lipped Blenny (Ophioblennius atlanticus)
Time kept: 4 months
Outcome: failure
Notes: this was one of my first fish and I really enjoyed its gregarious personality and interest in people outside the tank. Unfortunately, I introduced it to a pretty new aquarium which had not yet developed much naturally occuring algae. Even though the fish ate most foods I put in the tank, I believe there was simply not enough grazing material and it just got skinnier and skinnier and eventually died. I would definitely only consider adding this fish (or any grazer for that matter) into an established system.

Royal Gramma (Gramma loreto)
Time kept: 2 years
Outcome: successful
Notes: very hardy fish, competes well for food even with aggressive tank mates, but can be territorial to a fault. Ate everything put in the tank, but was a casualty of my maroon clown’s murder spree.

Six Line Wrasse (Pseudocheilinus hexataenia)
Time kept: approximately 6 months
Outcome: successful
Notes: a very hardy, colorful, active fish that is unfortunately a huge asshole. It picked on everything in my tank from other fish to inverts. I eventually traded it back to the store. The six line would be a cool fish for a single-fish tank, but is not a very nice tank mate in my experience.

Spotted Garden Eel (Heteroconger hassi)
Time kept: 2 months
Outcome: failure
Notes: garden eels are fish that really need a dedicated tank. They need to eat frequently, but are very timid and quickly disappear back into their holes around active swimmers. This makes feeding them in a community tank very difficult. Mine died of starvation (I presume) because it would only get a little food before being scared by one of my other fish.

Tamarin Wrasse – yellow tail and red tail (Anampses meleagrides, Anampses chrysocephalus)
Time kept: under 3 months
Outcome: failure
Notes: I have tried a couple yellow tails and a red tail all with the same result – death. Even fish that seemed to be eating prepared foods at the store would inevitably pick at food, but not actually ingest much, if any. A healthy pod population in my 60 gallon cube seemed to prolong the inevitable death, but eventually the fish would begin pacing and finally die. I would heavily advise against purchasing these beautiful fish unless the prospective buyer has the tank size, tank mates (must be peaceful), time, and resources to properly care for these delicate creatures.

Yellow Coris Wrasse (Halichoeres chrysus)
Time kept: approximately 2 years
Outcome: successful
Notes: a hardy, colorful, active fish. I really enjoyed my yellow Coris, but eventually traded it back to the pet store due to its propensity to kill my smaller shrimp. Other than that, it was a model citizen and ate like a pig. It hid in the sand bed quite a bit at first, but quickly acclimated.

Yellow Tail Damsel (Chrysiptera parasema)
Time kept: 9 months
Outcome: successful
Notes: I lost this little fish to ich in my first year keeping a saltwater tank. It was cheap, active, colorful, and ate any food I put in the tank. I know they have a reputation of being territorial, but I did not witness any aggression toward tank mates. This is a great beginner fish.

Yellow Watchman (Prawn) Goby (Cryptocentrus cinctus)
Time kept: 2.5 years
Outcome: unsure
Notes: my yellow watchman was the white color morph and was a hardy, funny little fish who accepted any food put in the tank. I am not sure of exactly why it died after so long living in my tank but it may have been outcompeted for food. I kept it with larger, aggressive, active swimmers and my watchman’s unwillingness to stray far from its burrow may have ultimately doomed it. If I were to get another, I would keep it with smaller, less aggressive tank mates.

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