There is just something about coral reefs that has captivated me since I was a child. The corals, clams, shrimp, crabs, and shrimp fighting for survival and yet somehow seeming to thrive as a community, buzzing with energy and popping in color.
I think many of us strive to recreate that with our reef tanks. If you’re looking to bring a piece of the ocean home, here is a list of the 15 Most Colorful Saltwater Fish for an Aquarium.
1. Regal Blue Tang
There is a reason the Pixar team picked the Regal Blue Tang as the species to represent the lovable and unforgettable Dory. The bold and beautiful coloration of these ocean fish makes them one the most colorful saltwater aquarium fish.
The blue is so blue, it looks manufactured, with black markings and just a touch of yellow, there is no wonder why this colorful saltwater fish starts off our list.
2. Pajama Cardinalfish
This reef fish is the OG at mastering the working from home in its pajamas look. The combination of pink polka-dots, black stripes, yellow, red, and black colors leaves you wondering what look they were going for exactly. Are they camouflaged for a rave or perhaps they just confuse would-be predators by making them laugh?
Regardless of exactly why or even if their look is a survival strategy, the Pajama Cardinalfish certainly is one of the most colorful saltwater aquarium fish.
3. Ocellaris Clownfish
The fish that started it all, the orange, black, and white Ocellaris clownfish is the most popular reef fish for a reason. Where else in nature can you see such a bold utilization of orange? This might also suggest the creator of our favorite fishy friends is a Flyers fan. Go orange and black!
4. Purple Firefish
The name alone doesn’t do this gorgeous fish justice. The Purple Firefish is a dartfish with purple, white, pink, red, yellow, and green. It has to be one of the most colorful ocean fish out there.
5. Flame Angelfish
The fiery red Flame Angelfish blends some of the most vibrant red, orange, and purple you will see on any saltwater fish in an aquarium.
Psychedelic is how you could describe the blue, green, and orange swirls of the Mandarin fish. These docile creatures are amazing to see, because of their coloration, but also because of the fun, fluttery way they swim, and those smart-looking eyes that are constantly scouring the surfaces looking for a bite to eat.
The Mandarin dragonet is stunningly gorgeous, but also notoriously challenging to keep alive in a home aquarium. Knowing which fish to buy and which to avoid is key to having success in this hobby. Join the thousands of people who have subscribed to the Saltwater Aquarium Blog Newsletter to get exclusive tips, tricks and advice to help you have greater success.
7. Lyretail Anthias
Red, orange, yellow, purple, and pink—the Lyretail Anthias combines the breathtaking colors from the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets and packs them into an amazing fish with fancy fins too.
8. Longnose Hawkfish
I hesitated about including the Longnose Hawkfish in this list of the most colorful saltwater fish for an aquarium—mostly because their two main colors are white and red—but the unique and amazing patterns of red and white are what made me ultimately determine to include them in this list.
Take a look for yourself.
9. Bluespot Jawfish
Now that I got that out of the way, take a look at this beauty and drool. At first glance, the yellow/green body might seem a bit drab, but they make up for it with blue spots that are so bright and shiny that they look like they run on batteries.
10. Purple Tang
Looking for a fish with deep purple and yellow colors? At first glance, the Purple Tang is a stunner—and then when you look closer, you realize how intricate the coloration and patterns really are, with subtle spots and lines, almost like dark tattoos laid within the dark purple.
11. Yellow Tang
A Yellow tang adds a serving and a half of bright, canary yellow and perpetual motion to any saltwater aquarium. They are extremely popular, and unfortunately harder to acquire these days, due to restrictions on importing from Hawaii. But the good news is that they are one of the first, if not THE first of the tangs to be raised in captivity and available from Aquaculture facilities.
12. Clown Triggerfish
If you want to see one of the most gorgeous displays of abstract art using black, white, and yellow in interesting patterns, take a look at the Clown Triggerfish. Look carefully and you will even see some pink tones on fins.
13. Melanurus Wrasse
Get ready for this next fish, so that your head doesn’t explode when you see it. Sometimes the Melanurus Wrasse looks orange and green, sometimes it’s clearly pink and green, while other times it’s red and green. That’s a challenging trick to accomplish without actually changing color, but describes how this beautifully colorful and popular saltwater fish made the list.
14. Midas Blenny
King Midas had the golden touch. Luckily you don’t need the golden touch to keep the namesake blenny alive, which is a great thing because this bold and gold beauty is hardy and gorgeous. The Midas Blenny’s primary gold in color, they have blue eyes and often show just a hint of pink in their dorsal region.
15. Fairy Wrasses and Flasher Wrasses
Last, but not least, if you were to look up the phrase colorful saltwater fish on Google, my sincere hope is that you would see a collection of the Fairy Wrasses or Flasher Wrasses. These fish come in an amazing array of color combinations involving every color of the rainbow and the males love to show off their colors to attract females.
Here is a list of the 15 Most Colorful Saltwater Fish for an Aquarium:
- Blue Tang
- Pajama Cardinalfish
- Ocellaris Clownfish
- Purple Firefish
- Flame Angelfish
- Lyretail Anthias
- Longnose Hawkfish
- Bluespot Jawfish
- Purple Tang
- Yellow Tang
- Clown Triggerfish
- Melanurus Wrasse
- Midas blenny
- Fairy Wrasses and Flasher Wrasses
A quick tip for keeping the most colorful saltwater fish from the ocean in your reef aquarium
After composing this list and writing this article, it dawned on me that a good percentage of the ocean fish on this list could also rank on a list of fishes most likely to end up jumping out of your tank and meeting a dry, waterless end. So if you aspire to keep the saltwater aquarium fish on this list, best to make plans for a net or lids that will help them keep their status as the most colorful saltwater fish for an aquarium and keep them off the list of fish most likely to end up on your carpet.
You can also find great fish that are compatible with those listed here using the interactive saltwater fish compatibility chart and online tool.