Top 10 Nano Reef Tank Fish

Updated on November 24, 2020 by

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A comprehensive list of the top 10 nano reef tank fish should be of great help when we start out our first nano reef tank. As fish-keepers for years in the hobby, most of us get started with freshwater tanks, and eventually, we want to begin with our first saltwater tank. When that happens, we naturally buy a nano tank, ideally a full starter kit, and begin setting it up to have it cycled.

We need live rock and a sand bed for such a nano tank before adding any corals or fish. Once we have a cool nano reef tank in place, cycled, and everything in order, naturally, the next step is to add some good looking marine fish as well.

If you’re still in the planning phase of building your first marine setup, we recommend the following best nano tanks, dry rock, but also sand and gravel options.

For that, let’s build-up today our list of top 10 nano reef tank fish. Primarily, the first win about nano reef fish is that these are not very pricey fish. While the nano reef fish from our list are not the most exquisite marine fish, they are definitely great fish for your first nano reef tank.

You might also be interested in our article on the best protein skimmers currently available on the market. Some of them qualify perfectly as protein skimmers for nano reef tanks as well.

1. Snowflake Clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris)

Now the picture of this guy is not your typical Ocellaris Clownfish. This is actually also known as the Snowflake Anemonefish, and they are considered a designer Clownfish that’s been selectively bred to look this way.

Snowflake Clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris)

Quick stats:

  • Minimum tank size: 20 Gallons
  • Care level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Max size: 3 inches

The Snowflake Clownfish is one of the most popular fish in the hobby, and they require a minimum of 20 gallons. Clownfish, in general, are considered easy to care for fish, with a peaceful temperament.

Since they grow to a maximum of 3 inches, once a saltwater reef tank has been established, everybody thinks – why not get a Clownfish as well?

As a captive-bred species, the Snowflake Clownfish is quite the gourmand and will accept most meaty foods and frozen herbivore fish foods.

2. Purple Firefish (Nemateleotris decora)

From the Firefish family, this is by far one of the most beautiful fish for reef nano tanks. You’d be surprised to see that it needs a relatively small nano tank of at least 10 gallons.

Purple Firefish (Nemateleotris decora)

Being incredibly peaceful, in fact, one of the most peaceful fish for nano reef tanks, you should be extra careful if you plan on choosing other tank mates for the Purple Firefish.

Quick stats:

  • Minimum tank size: 20 Gallons
  • Care level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Max size: 3 inches
The Purple Firefish will reach a size of 3 inches, so it does not grow significantly large. If you’ve noticed their hydrodynamic shape, that’s because the Purple Firefish are proficient jumpers, so there’s a need to cover your reef tank; otherwise, they’ll surely attempt an escape.

The Purple Firefish enjoys eating from the water column but won’t refrain from picking food off the substrate as well. It’s crucial to feed the Purple Firefish a nutritious and vitamin-rich diet; otherwise, its vibrant colors may start to fade.

3. Blue Spotted Jawfish (Opistognathus rosenblatti)

The ideal reef tank for the Blue Spotted Jawfish should be of a minimum of 30 gallons. Compared to all other fish from our list, this one requires a moderate care level, and it’s not the most peaceful fish either. Top of that, it also comes with the highest price tag.

Blue Spotted Jawfish (Opistognathus rosenblatti)

Quick stats:

  • Minimum tank size: 30 Gallons
  • Care level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Max size: 3.5 inches
It does grow to a maximum of 3.5 inches, and it loves a thick sand bottom layer that this burrowing fish can use to hide. The Blue Spotted Jawfish likes a vast horizontal living space in the tank and plenty of live rock.

The Blue Spotted Jawfish is territorial and will defend its space against its kind unless we talk about a breeding pair. Oh, and one extra thing – this fish will try jumping out of the tank, so provide it with a tight lid to prevent unnecessary situations.

4. Orchid Dottyback (Pseudochromis fridmani)

If you’ve got a nano reef tank of a minimum of 30 gallons, and you’re also a big fan of the beautiful orchid purple color, then the Orchid Dottyback is the ideal fish for you, a fish that won’t grow any larger than 3 inches.

Orchid Dottyback (Pseudochromis fridmani)

Quick stats:

  • Minimum tank size: 15 Gallons
  • Care level: Easy
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Max size: 2.8 inches

An interesting fact about Orchid Dottybacks is that in the wild, they’re only found in the Red Sea, typically hanging around in larger groups near ledges, where they dart back and forth to feed on the passing zooplankton. We recommend you to have plenty of live rock in the tank for the Orchid Dottyback, as it will hide around after being introduced in the tank, but it will start swimming in the open once acclimated.

It’s one of the most suitable fish for reef tanks as it’ll prey on pests such as small mantis shrimp and bristleworms. Orchid Dottybacks should be fed once a day, and if you plan on adding more of them in the same tank, it’s essential to add them all at once to avoid any potential territorial conflicts in the future.

If there are multiple fish species in your reef tank, it’s essential to add the Orchid Dottyback as one of the last fish, so they don’t get to establish territories before other fish are added.

5. Neon Goby (Elacatinus oceanops)

We brought the Neon Goby to our list for its incredible colors and peaceful nature. Being a hardy fish very easy to care for, the Neon Goby is a great fish for a small nano reef. If you’ve got a minimum 10 gallons reef tank that’s ready to host a fish, then the Neon Goby will surely brighten up the tank.

Neon Goby (Elacatinus oceanops)

Quick stats:

  • Minimum tank size: 10 Gallons
  • Care level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Max size: 2 inches
They don’t grow any larger than 2 inches, so you should never worry about the need to move them to a bigger tank. Although a very peaceful fish, they tend to become territorial towards their kind, except when they form a mated pair. So that’s something to keep in mind if you plan on getting two Neon Gobies for a nano reef tank.

Neon Gobies have a particular habit of feeding on parasites they pick on larger reef fish in the wild. Since you can’t offer them that in a small reef tank, you should consider providing the Neon Goby a varied diet consisting of foods designed explicitly for carnivore fish.

When housed in a small nano reef tank, you should only feed your Neon Goby once a day to continually keep clean water within optimal parameters.

6. Royal Gramma Basslet (Gramma loreto)

Next in our top 10 fish for nano reef tanks is no other than the Royal Gramma. This peaceful fish requires a tank size of at least 30 gallons and is relatively easy to care for. The Royal Gramma gets to have a maximum length of 3 inches.

Royal Gramma Basslet (Gramma loreto)

Quick stats:

  • Minimum tank size: 30 Gallons
  • Care level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Max size: 3 inches

Royal Grammas are peaceful fish except for the cases when they meet their kind. So, for that reason, we recommend you to keep a single one per reef tank.

When it comes to the diet of Royal Grammas, as carnivore species, they enjoy, of course, meaty meals consisting of brine shrimp, mysis shrimp, and quality frozen foods.

7. Tailspot Blenny (Ecsenius stigmatura)

Next on the list is one of the favorite fish in the marine hobby, the Tailspot Blenny. It requires the minimum reef tank capacity, that being 10 gallons. Blennies are peaceful and hardy fish, making them perfect candidates as reef tank fish for beginners.

Tailspot Blenny (Ecsenius stigmatura)

Quick stats:

  • Minimum tank size: 10 Gallons
  • Care level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Max size: 2.5 inches
The Tailspot Blenny has a lovely funny look, and you should not keep them with any aggressive fish, or they go into hiding, and you don’t want to see such a beautiful fish hiding all day. Most of the time, you’ll see the Tailspot Blenny around the bottom of the tank as they love to stay around live rock, grazing, perching, and hiding, but also looking out for algae, so they help to keep that under control.

Tailspot Blenny is a small fish growing to a max of 2.5 inches. Their diet should include vegetable matter, including frozen and dried foods containing marine and blue-green algae.

8. Highfin Goby (Stonogobiops nematodes)

If you want a small cool saltwater fish for reef nano tanks, have a look at the Highfin Goby. It doesn’t grow more than 2 inches and is a very peaceful fish that never shows any aggression towards other shrimp gobies.

Highfin Goby (Stonogobiops nematodes)

Quick stats:

  • Minimum tank size: 10 Gallons
  • Care level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Max size: 2 inches
However, it likes to have its own territory, so it might get aggressive towards its kind when kept together, especially if the tank is too small.

Highfin Goby will do very well in a nano reef tank of at least 10 gallons scaped with plenty of live rock and a sand substrate. It likes to eat about twice a day, with nutritious and healthy meals such as mysis shrimp, vitamin-enriched brine shrimp. If you notice the Highfin Goby not eating after added to the tank, don’t worry – it will acclimate and start eating in no time.

9. Yellow Watchman Goby (Cryptocentrus cinctus)

If you’re familiar with reef tanks from different fish-keepers, then you most likely saw this fish more than once. The Yellow Watchman Goby is undoubtedly one of the favorite nano reef tank fish. It’s a hardy fish and easy to care for, and it’ll need a minimum tank of 10 gallons, so they don’t demand much.

Yellow Watchman Goby (Cryptocentrus cinctus)

Quick stats:

  • Minimum tank size: 10 Gallons
  • Care level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Max size: 3 inches

On average, the Yellow Watchman Goby won’t grow more than 3 inches, but some specimens can get a little bit bigger, mostly if housed in larger tanks. They are considered peaceful but can show signs of aggression towards other fish when it has to do with protecting their little niche in the reef tank.

As their name suggests, they have a gorgeous bright yellow color with pale blue dots on them.

The Yellow Watchman Goby likes to eat at least a couple of times a day. Their highly nutritious diet should include mysis shrimp, brine shrimp, table shrimp, and frozen foods for carnivore fish.

10. Midas Blenny (Ecsenius midas)

The Midas Blenny will require a reef tank of a minimum of 30 gallons, and they typically reach about 6 inches, so relatively larger than most other fish from our list.

Midas Blenny (Ecsenius midas)

Quick stats:

  • Minimum tank size: 30 Gallons
  • Care level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Max size: 6 inches

Peaceful fish by nature, the Midas Blenny might start to nip at Firefish and Gobies, and that happens mostly because of confining tank situations.

So depending on your reef tank capacity, it’s up to you to decide if Midas Blenny is a great candidate or not. But do keep in mind their tank room requirements.

The Midas Blenny will enjoy a meat-rich diet, consisting of finely chopped crustacean flesh, mysis, and vitamin-rich brine shrimp, along with frozen herbivorous foods, micro, and blue-green algae.

To conclude

Choosing the best fish for a reef nano tank is definitely a subjective topic, and every fish-keeper can make all sorts of choices and combinations. But from our experience, we narrowed down the list to these 10 astonishing fish that can be housed in a nano reef tank.