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While choosing the best saltwater starter fish may seem relatively straightforward, picking an animal solely based on criteria like price, hardiness, and aggression can sometimes lead aquarists to choose fish that should be otherwise avoided. Here is a list of fish that may at first seem like an okay choice as a starter fish, but in reality are best avoided by saltwater nano reef beginners.
These slow-moving, psychedelic fish are some of the prettiest fish you will find at your local fish store. These do meet a few criteria that are important in a good saltwater starter fish. (They’re small fish that won’t outgrow your tank, parasite- and disease-resistant, and generally inexpensive.) However, they do not make ideal starter fish since they are notoriously picky eaters and are not very hardy. Mandarin fish specialize in eating copepods (tiny invertebrates) and will usually shun foods normally offered in a saltwater tank. They generally starve to death in all but the largest established reef tanks.
(If interested in purchasing a Mandarin dragonet, you should do research and ask the fish store to feed the fish in the store so you can figure out what it eats and whether you can care for its dietary needs before you buy it. Nowadays, a lot of captive-bred Mandarins will actually eat frozen foods and won’t be such picky eaters. If you have a steady supply of copepods, you will also be in good shape. This fish is not impossible to keep, but it is an extremely finnicky eater, and is a poor choice as a first fish.)
The Six Line Wrasse is often the first species of wrasse introduced to new aquarists. Its relatively small size, engaging personality, and appetite for aquarium pests make it a staple among marine ornamental dealers. Unfortunately, it is a highly active predator of small benthic creatures and is indiscriminate in its tastes. A single wrasse can effectively decimate the desirable microstations? and zooplankton populations, which decreases the biodiversity in a reef aquarium. These fish are also known for becoming very territorial once established, which can prevent the addition of other fish that inhabit the same niche in smaller aquariums. While the species is indeed hardy, and in some instances useful, the cons of adding a Six Line Wrasse to a modern reef aquarium may very well outweigh the pros.
(If you add this fish last to your tank, it has a way better chance of behaving more politely, but it is still not recommended as a beginner’s fish.)
Another starter fish beginners should avoid is any type of damselfish. These are possibly the most common saltwater fish and even meet most of the criteria that make a good starter fish. They are inexpensive, hardy, and many species are bold and vibrantly colored. These should be avoided as a saltwater starter fish because they are not peaceful. Most species of damselfish are aggressive and territorial and will torment and harass your other delicate, prized fish. Damselfish may be tempting to buy due to their hardiness and low cost (and many fish stores even encourage using them as a disposable fish to cycle a tank), but they are a fish that saltwater beginners should avoid altogether.
(Clownfish are damsels! The only clownfish that I would recommend to beginners as a great starter fish is the Ocellaris clownfish (AKA “Nemo”). Another damselfish exception that can be made is the blue/green Chromis fish. These are peaceful and very cheap, so a lot of people recommend them as good starter fish. However, they seem to die easily and are not very hardy. Damsels are also extra aggressive when kept alone or in pairs, which is why they do not make a great starter fish for a beginner.)