royal gramma marine fish

Royal gramma


Are you thinking about adding a Royal gramma fairy basslet to your saltwater tank? If so, you’ll be in good company, because Gramma loreto, is a great beginner fish and is one of the most popular fish in the hobby. For good reason! This is one of the first animals I added to my reef tank and I have had one in my reef tank the entire time.

royal gramma loreto

How much does the royal gramma fairy basslet cost?

More good news. In addition to being a beautifully colored, hardy saltwater fish, Gramma loreto is also relatively inexpensive–generally, the price is in the $20-30 range, at least near me (East Cost U.S.) and on popular online fish stores.

Gramma loreto size

The royal gramma’s size is another distinguishing feature. A fully mature adult fish grows to about 3-inches in size.

Is the fairy basslet reef safe?

Perhaps the most important question to consider with any fish (if you’re adding them to a reef tank) is whether or not they are considered to be reef safe. More good news for you. The royal gramma is definitely reef safe. They adapt well to live in a saltwater tank and will leave your corals, clams and other invertebrates alone.

Royal Gramma care and feeding

From a care and husbandry perspective, the G. loreto does not appear to have very specific or troubling requirements. They eat almost anything. In my experience, they tend to prefer meaty live foods, like brine shrimp and black worms, but they also greedily eat meaty frozen foods, like Mysis shrimp.

Like most fish, they will take the live or frozen offerings over prepared flake or pellet foods, but they will consume prepared foods as well if that is all that is offered.

Their mouths seem to be surprisingly large compared with the size of their bodies and they are capable of consuming fairly large bits of food when they are motivated to do so.

Do they hide a lot? Where will they spend their time?

In a reef aquarium with sufficient structure, the G. loreto will spend its time suspended in the water vertically, with its belly along a preferred wall of the aquarium or reef aquascape.

Their bold purple and yellow colors will stand out, in any reef–and their general boldness will make them a staple in any reef tank and are part of what makes them a great beginner fish for any reef tank.

They can be a bit shy, at times, hiding in the crevices of your rockwork. You can encourage them to be bolder if you have bold fish swimming in the tank, signaling, the ‘all is clear’.

Aggression between the royal gramma and other fish

A couple of years ago, I had purchased three small individuals from a local fish store, with an intention to try and breed these magnificent fish, but the piscine trio did not last long.

Two of the fish seemed to get along fine–but they ganged up on the third fish–and when the third fish was no more–the two remaining royal gramma specimens, who seemed to get along fine while the third fish was in the mix, soon turned on each other.

I know this is not exhaustive research into the conspecific aggression seen within these species, but I have read enough accounts encouraging the addition of a single royal gramma specimen, per aquarium, to extrapolate my own personal experience and justify the old rule of thumb.

fairy basslet saltwater fish

Image by ahisget

The only other aggression you have to watch out for, with this fish, is with a similar-looking rival, the royal dottyback.No-royal-dottyback

Please don’t try to keep these two species in the same tank together. Things won’t end well for at least one of them. Other than that, the royal gramma is compatible with all corals and most other fish species.


There is no sexual dimorphism shown between males and females, which basically means you can’t tell them apart just by looking at them.

Once they do begin to bond, the male fish generally is larger than the females, and the shorter females may look a little more swollen in the gut area if they indeed have ovaries full of ripening eggs.

Gramma loreto, Adult

Image by Jenny (JennyHuang) from Taipei


RGs are a cave-spawning saltwater fish and tend to reproduce in harems–one male tends to spawn with several females in a nest that the male makes, in a cave, from macroalgae–or any similar material that is available to them.

The eggs are laid over several nights, so hatching of the eggs, similarly, takes place over multiple days–making them slightly challenging fish to breed and also making them ideal candidates for a larval snagger, since the larvae generally hatch at night and can be collected with a larval snagger without a significant amount of human intervention.

Even though I noted earlier that the Royal gramma, is a harem spawner, it is generally best kept as a single fish, in the home aquarium, because aggression is highly likely between fish of the same species. I have witnessed this first-hand. I suspect the aggression was between two rival males, but I can’t really be certain. 

gramma loreto




The Royal Gramma is one of my all-time favorite saltwater fishes. It is a great addition to the beginner or advanced aquarium and will liven up just about any tank with a flash of color and cool behavior.

For more information about breeding this fish, I recommend you check out The Complete Illustrated Breeder’s Guide to Marine Aquarium Fishes.

For more information

As mentioned earlier, the royal gramma fairy basslet will get along with most other community fish tank mates. To continue learning about other hardy saltwater fish compatible with gramma loreto, check out these other care guides:

To dive deeper about this fish, check out this video all about the royal gramma fairy basslet


Written by Albert B. Ulrich III–author of The Reef Aquarium Series of books:  The New Saltwater Aquarium Guide, How to Frag Corals, 107 Tips for the Marine Reef Aquarium.

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Royal Gramma species profile


  1. Al:

    Enjoyed your post today about the Royal a Gramma. Next to the yellow watchman Goby, and Neon Gobies. The Royal Gramma is definitely one of my favorites.

    Funny you should write this article about this fish, because I’m heading out tomorrow to purchase one at my local pet shop. I did have one when I first set up my display tank on Nov. 6th, 2015. But I lost him because of saltwater Ich exposure that He apparently contracted from another fish or possibly coral that was introduced to my tank at that time.

    Thank ful for using my head this time and setting up a 20 gallon quarantine tank so this doesn’t ever again. I also wanted to point out something interesting about the gramma I purchased. When I first purchased the fish, a good portion of his tail was actually chewed off by another more aggressive fish in the pet store at the time.

    After having a lengthy discussion with the manager there, he assured me that the tail would grow back in a few weeks. And sure enough it did. So just a little something for others to digest in case they ever run across this same issue while at their pet store.

    This should’nt really impede someone’s decision in purchasing a royal gramma just because it’s missing a bit of its tail fin. Particularly if it’s the only one in stock at the time.

    1. Author

      Hi Jim,

      Thanks for sharing your experiences with this fish too. I’ve had a few fish with damaged fins have have always been amazed at their ability to regenerate them (not limited to the Royal Gramma), but what makes this fish great is that they are tough (hardy is probably a better word). Sorry to hear about the loss from saltwater ich. That is a shame and is a risk for any/all of us. I also appreciate your sentiment about caring for damaged fish–I do tend to think the traditional advice would have read (and may have written) would be to avoid a damaged fish (due to risk of disease or loss) but if you are a skilled hobbyist and have the time and space to nurture them back to health, that’s a great fish rescue! It just proves the point that so much of what is we do in this hobby depends on the circumstances. Great comment.

  2. Next to the diamond goby, this is my second favorite fish! Elegant, colorful and hardy! Note: I mistakenly purchased a tiny basslet (not a royal gramma variety) with the same color combo for my QT to give it some color and life. As it grew, I kept waiting for the two colors to blend in the middle, but they never did. I came across an article about this gramma imposter, whose colors do not blend (there is just a definitive line), they lack a dot on the dorsal fin, and they can be aggressive. I’m not seeing the aggressive behavior luckily, but just beware of the similarity!

    1. Author

      Thanks for the comment, Michele. I agree, the royal gramma is a great saltwater fish. Do you think the fish was a royal dottyback or something else?

      1. Ahh!! Yes, I was mistaken. It was a dottyback, not a basslet. They look identical to me when they are small. I think the tank in the pet store (large chain) may have had a label on it that said “basslet,” perhaps referring to a royal gramma, so I thought it was a baby gramma! Thanks for the clarification.

        1. Author

          Hi Michele, I’m sorry I didn’t mean to make it sound like a mistake. I was actually super curious about what species it might have been and was excited that you thought it was a basslet. By the way, that mix up happens all the time. I’ve seen them listed in stores near me like that too…royal gramma… It’s a shame because while cool looking, the dotty backs are not nearly as cool as grammas. Glad to hear the aggression hasn’t been an issue for you.

          Please don’t apologize. I’m grateful for the comment and glad we got to the bottom of it so I didn’t have this fever thinking there was another species I need to go find and keep 🙂

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