Flasher wrasse

15 of the Most Colorful Saltwater Fish for an Aquarium

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.

Regal blue tang in reef aquarium

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. 

Pajama cardinalfish in saltwater tank

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!

Colorful ocellaris clownfish

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.

Purple firefish showing off coloration

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. 

Flame angelfish showing orange red and purple colors

6. Mandarinfish

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. 

Mandarinfish goby

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. 

Colorful Lyretail Anthias

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. 

Longnose hawkfish on toadstool coral

9. Bluespot Jawfish

Here’s a quick riddle (Dad Joke) for you—when does the Bluespotted Jawfish change its spots? Answer: When it moves from one spot in the tank to another. 

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.

Blue-spotted jawfish

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. 

Purple tang

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.

Yellow tang fish

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. 

Clown triggerfish in ocean reef

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 saltwater fish made the list. 

Hoeven's wrasse

Also known as Hoeven’s wrasse, this reef fish is very colorful

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.

Midas blenny with SPS corals in background

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.

Flasher wrasse

Here is a list of the 15 Most Colorful Saltwater Fish for an Aquarium:

  1. Blue Tang
  2. Pajama Cardinalfish
  3. Ocellaris Clownfish
  4. Purple Firefish
  5. Flame Angelfish
  6. Mandarinfish
  7. Lyretail Anthias
  8. Longnose Hawkfish
  9. Bluespot Jawfish
  10. Purple Tang
  11. Yellow Tang
  12. Clown Triggerfish
  13. Melanurus Wrasse
  14. Midas blenny
  15. 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.

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