Starting your new aquarium hobby can be as easy as A-B-C if you’re following the proper guidelines in proper fish keeping. A fish tank is considered to be a “nano tank” when it could hold 30 gallons of saltwater or less. Though an aquarium within this size looks stress-free to maintain, but there’s more to it than meets the eye.
Experts agree that bigger tanks are easier to maintain for beginners due to the fact that the higher volume of water provides a buffer to any sensitivities in water quality and temperature. However, it isn’t THAT much more difficult if you’re following the proper guidelines in fishkeeping.
One thing that you should consider when you start your new nano reef tank is the choice of small saltwater fishes that could be best suitable for your tank. Keep in mind that the fish species should not be aggressive and the choice of fish you choose to stock is compatible with each other.
To help you get started, here is a list of 10 best nano saltwater fish for your nano reef tank:
Table of Contents
10 Best Nano Saltwater Fish for your Nano Reef Tank
1. Pajama Cardinalfish
Considered one of the best starter fish, Pajama Cardinalfish is among the most commonly bought fish for nano tanks for they are cheaply priced and remain small even until their adult form.
These fish aren’t also picky when it comes to food and would generally feed on anything you put on your tank.
Also, they are characterized by their bold patterns and their mouth-brooding features – their tendency to carry their eggs inside their mouth before the eggs hatch.
2. Coral Beauty Angelfish
A member of the angelfish family, dwarf pygmy coral beauty angelfish tend to be an asset in every nano aquarium for hobbyists.
They are passive, reef safe fish growing only up to a few centimeters, which enhances the color and continuous motion in your tank.
Although some species of angelfish are sold expensively in some pet stores, the value for your money is definitely worth for the beauty, color arrangement, and durability of angelfish.
3. Neon Goby
Referred as “perching fish” or “cleaner fish”, neon gobies show a great mix of personalities while swimming inside a tank.
Sometimes they park themselves on their pelvic fins, with their flat stomach along their chosen area in the terrain.
Oftentimes, they wait for floating food around them or for a bigger fish to stop by. Neon gobies eat the tiny dirt or algae sticking into the body of bigger fish.
4. Coral or Crown Goby
Another type of goby suitable for nano tanks is the coral or crown goby.
These species grow only up to 2 inches in maximum and can be kept alongside with other species inside your aquarium.
They mix well with other species but also have a tendency to multiply rapidly. That is why it is best to start with a pair or two pairs for your own convenience.
5. Dartfish or Firefish Goby
One of the favorites in the goby family would be the dartfish or firefish goby, which displays a charming and innocent appearance together with their colorful body often in purple or orange shade.
What makes it extra unique is the additional fin found near its head that habitually ways with the fish during swimming.
6. Shrimp Goby
The difference they have from other gobies is that they tend to spend much of their time at the sandy or rocky bottom of the tank.
This is great if you want to avoid your fish fighting over their territories.
However, shrimp gobies could jump out of the tank at certain times, so it would be advisable to own a tight-lid tank when you own them.
7. Royal Gramma
This fish is referred to as royal due to its vibrant purple and yellow color throughout its body, symbolizing royalty in ancient times.
Royal gramma prefers to inhabit the rock and coral formations inside tanks. They also provide you with a nice array of colors when swimming across the water.
8. Blue Chromis
Blue Chromis also identifies itself as one of the famous fishes when it comes to a nano reef tank. As much as they eat anything you feed them, they also stay small and do not grow much later.
They also maintain their awesome blue color and would definitely look better when in groups.
9. Green Chromis
Like its sibling blue Chromis, green Chromis also do better when they are grouped together.
You would enjoy their perfect green coloring in dainty tank illumination. Though they often quarrel with other species in nibbling motion, they are still considered tough and could last longer than others.
10. Clownfish (Ocellaris Clownfish)
Being famously known in the movie ‘Finding Nemo’, clownfish starts to be totally in demand in aquariums especially nano tanks.
Since they are territorial, it is advisable to put only a pair for small tanks due to its ability to breed rapidly.
A pair of clownfish would look good as they will be seen always swimming together inside your tank.
Random interesting fact: Did you know that when clownfish are born, they are naturally males? Yes, they actually are! And they only become female when the female in their school dies. The most dominant male clownfish could turn itself to a female surprisingly! And the average lifespan of a clownfish is six to eight years – that’s a lot for a small fish!
Now that you have an idea of what type of fish to purchase on your local pet shop, it is best to stock up knowledge on fish characteristics before you make your purchase. Take note of these tips:
• First, make sure that the fish would stay small in size until their adult form.
• Next, research on the space they need to acquire for swimming as others prefer living in wide tanks and not in nano reef tanks.
• And lastly, ask the pet shop on what kind of food your fish would prefer, e.g. pellets, flakes, etc.
With these basic guides, I wish you’ll be successful with your first nano reef tank!
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Paul L says
Be Warned-Chromis fish can be mean and hard to catch and remove.
Storm Wolf says
yes i owned a school of 6 at one point and i never caught any same goes for any damselfish
I think you may have accidentally entered something in wrong. You list the size of the coral Beaty angelfish as “a few centimeters”. Pretty much every reference to the maximum size for the coral beauty is 10 cm (4″). Not jumping down your throught, I just wanted to bring it to your attention.
Thanks for this I had rled them out as too small for my 32 coralife bio cube but now I may reconsider. they are so lovely. I’m in the first week of my tanks enhabitation and after cyceling I added a cleaner shrimp two clown fish and a emerald crab. I’m researching now the best tank mates for these fish. I’m also trying to choose safe anemones to pair my clown fish with. I’ve read articles about these containing pollytoxins.
Thanks for the info and if any one has other ideas for good fish,and other inverts please let me know. Are there sutiable stars for a 32 gallon aquascape? I also have about 25 lbs of live rock which I have set up to mimic many caves.
Royal Gramma is nice ,, not to be confused with Royal Dotty, because they look very similar. Those can be real a**holes.
Guy who cares says
Clowns and Coral Beauties are definitely not ok in a 10 gallon. 35+ gallon absolute minimum. Have you actually kept saltwater fish????
Yes I kept them in. 5 gallon it’s all bout the live stock and rock work and MUST have anemones to keep em happy
Ocellaris don’t need anemones, Coral Beauties should never be in a nano, and Chromis get to almost 4 inches and are totally inappropriate for a nano. Most of the recommendations in this article are blatantly false.
Chris, you should really do research before jumping down someone’s throat as everything you have said is completely and I mean 100 percent wrong. Let us start in order
1. Ocellaris do not need anemones
a. False they do in fact need host anemones and will use Magnificent Sea Anemone (Heteractis magnifica), Giant Carpet Sea Anemone (Stichodactyla gigantean) and Merten’s Carpet Sea Anemone (Stichodactyla mertensii).
2. Coral Beauties should never be in a nano
a. Anything that is small enough can go into a nano. If it grows too big you can trade it back in for a new fish or simply buy a bigger tank
3. Chromis get to almost 4 inches and totally inappropriate for a nano
a. I have never had my Chromis get that big and I have a 150 gallon, in fact, I have damsels that were supposed to be smaller get bigger than them, and people keep damsels in nano tanks.
Overall in a nano tank, you will only keep one or two fish otherwise the bioload is too much and water changes become a daily instead of a weekly occurrence; however, you could do a heavier bioload and do the daily changes and everything would be just fine.
Sorry Mike. Chris is absolutely right. It seems that you are the one who needs to do some research.
O. Clownfish do NOT need an anemone…. I don’t know where your research came from but O. Clowns will choose anything from other types of corals to a powerhead/Wavemaker to a corner or the tank or piece of rock to use as their host…. I don’t know how long ago this was written but in 2018 it’s been proven very very wrong…
And if you are going to say they “need” an anemone then you should really tell people they can’t just get any type of anemone because they will only use certain types to host in…. just FYI
I have kept my coral beauty in my 15 gal reef with high stocking
Storm Wolf says
please read a comment before replying to them in this rude way as he already stated these things
i keep a pair of clownfish is a 20 gal works well
I have kept my coral beauty for 5 years in my 15 gallon with 2 occelaris clowns and a fire shrimp
Hey Chris,your a fag. Worry about your own tank. Fish aren’t meant to be kept in a tank at all so stop bitchin
Its you’re, not your. Maybe check your grammar before you attempt to insult someone.
For the record, not a single piece of info on reefs will work in any or every situation.
As for clownfish, they do not swim much, dont need much room. If you are able to export nutrients, they can live in a smaller tank, it just takes more maintenence. Clowns do not need anemonies to be happy or survive.
LOL anemones…really? Most people’s ocellaris clowns won’t even host in one. They WILL however, host at almost everyone’s algae scraper, powerhead, other random equipment in the tank. And never any smaller than 20 gallons for a pair of clowns.
I keep 2 clownfish in a 10 gallon without an anemone and they do just fine. They often hover in the water that comes out of my filter. I only change the water about once every 30 Fay and only have to add salt like once a no and they are as active and healthy as can be…
I belong to an aquarium society where I learned much of what I know other than reading various books on the topic and many of my fellow aquarists keep clown fish in micro reefs all the time one friend has had the same pair for nearly 8 years and that is simply aged for clown fish.
You ever breed clowns? You make it seem as if their breeding will be a problem somehow. Clowns may lay eggs but nothing is going to come from it in a display. Clowns dont need anemonae. Coral beauties not 100% reef safe. I will never put pygmy angels in any of my reefs as they have burned me too many times. Ive been building and servicing tanks and doing my own for 20+ years. Most of the advice given here is not the best and thats putting it mildly
Totally agree with you. I have kept marines since early 80s and agree with your points and advise here is not entirely accurate.I personally do keep Pygmy angels in my tanks but I’m not partial to sps and I don’t mind the potential nip of cheaper corals. That being said I would agree no dwarf angel is entirely reef safe and I would not say suitable for the smaller nano tank , personally I would keep a coral beauty in minimum 25-30 gallons and others in 50 plus . Chromis and damsels should be avoided in nano as there is limited space for territories and will almost certainly result in aggression. I agree to a point that clowns don’t need Anemones but I would personally not keep them without one but it depends on your circumstances if you are inexperienced or have a new setup an anemone will not survive and your clowns won’t die without it . I have had clownfish adopt Toadies, Xenia Torch coral etc And this is one of the reasons why I choose to have on anemone because Very often clowns will choose to adopt an inappropriate host and either get Eaten or Get stung by corals such as Torches And also many corals do not appreciate the attention. In the absence of a host for example in a fish only System clownfish in my opinion do not behave normally they will stick to a corner or a powerhead and do not display normal behaviour is for these reasons even though I agree they do not need an Anemone they do benefit from having one. I would also mention that in my opinion firefish are not suitable for a nano, Even though they are often successfully kept alive in them, and they are often recommended, in my opinion they are not suitable because they are open water swimmers And also do better in groups.
Guy who cares 2 says
What about 14 gallon is that ok for clowns ?
I have two Clown’s in a 13.5 gallon nano with a Starry Blenny and all 3 are in perfect health and thriving. And no, it is not a new tank and I am not new to the hobby. I have good export and everything tests out great in my tank. Please inform us as to why you can’t put clowns in a smaller nano. What specific issue does it cause?
I'm Very Concerned By Your Comment says
I’m really concerned by that. This article is relatively helpful for those just starting out, but Coral Beauties get up to 4″ long, and need at LEAST 10 gallons PER fish. Also, anemones cannot thrive in a 5 gallon tank, because those alone need at least that much room to move and adapt safely. Not to mention adding fish to that.
How many were you keeping per tank? How long did they survive in there????
Fish have nerves and feelings too, they feel pain and sadness says
Something seems fishy here, I had a coral beauty and it was definitely not reef safe, however, they are a hit or miss, just like any other fish, but you say you kept a clown and anemone in a 5 gallon tank? they must have been tiny babies huh? might as well put them in a 5 gallon bucket. lol
Tiny fish world says
Can I keep 1 firefish goby, 2 bangai cardinals, 1 lawnmower blenny, 1 green legged hermit, and 1 ocellaris clownfish in a 10 gallon nano tank. (Btw, it has ben cycled for over a month.)
No, that is too many fish for a small tank, 2 fish tops for a ten gallon. I pushed my 10 gallon and had 3 fish but was constantly going water changes and went to a 40 gallon tank
Wow… If you are planning on keeping a nano tank, please do more research! Many of the fish listed are not ideal for pico and nano tanks, especially if you intend to keep groups of them as this article seems to encourage. The bio-load is going to cause the whole system to crash and corals really need water parameters to be spot on in order to thrive. Smaller volumes of water mean there is little to no room for error and rookie mistakes could wipe out the entire tank.
I completely understand the want to throw a colorful menagerie of fish and corals in a budget friendly tank, but you’d be setting yourself up for disaster if you don’t put in some real research and plan your tank accordingly!
If you can keep up with the maintenence, things will be fine.
I have a long spine urchins who has no natural predators in my 29 gal biocube it ate my starfish. Now I’m afraid for my red shrimp. If I trim its spines will it be less aggressive like when I got it & its spines were short?
Coral beauties are not good in small tanks as they can scare easy and die instantly from a heart attack. No lie. Clowns and gobies are best suited for nano tanks. Buy captive bred clowns. Their almost indestructible and dont need an anemone. Ive had a beautiful pair of wyoming white clowns for over 5 yrs now along with a royal gramma a dozen red and blue leg hermit crabs and 4 large turbo snails in a fish only 30 gal biocube. All have been doing great for yrs now.
Is it ok if i put only 2 small corals on 10 gallon tank???
Yes, just always keep an eye on the tank.
This is a nice list but are there any truly tiny fish for a salt water reef? I feel a reef tank with tiny fish the size of amphipods or just slightly larger would be very interesting.
Tatyana Kenney says
Omg ok this helped I was going to put a anemone in a 15 gallon do you know what I should do cause my clown fish I ordered tank raised and I bought a anemone do you have any tips for me also what fish that are coral safe and not aggressive
I have a 20gal tank with 6 hermit crabs, a clownfish, and live rocks. Is there another fish i can add or would that be pushing the 20 gal?