13 Reef Safe Fish and Invertebrates

Reef safe fish

Do you have a saltwater aquarium and are wondering which are the best reef safe fish and invertebrates to add to it? In this article, we will be looking at the various reef safe saltwater fish and invertebrates for your aquarium. 

What are reef safe fish? Reef safe fish is the good kind, and they are not a threat to their peers, invertebrates, or the coral reef in your marine or saltwater tank. They maintain a balanced co-existence with their aquarium surroundings, making them a popular fish for marine aquarists. 

Reef safe saltwater fish and invertebrates

Fish and aquatic creatures have their personalities, and while some are peaceful and calm, others pose a threat to their habitat like damaging the reef within your aquarium. It’s therefore vital that you distinguish the occupants of your fish tank in an effort to find reef safe fish and invertebrates. 

To know which of these characters to include into your aquatic set-up, read on and see the best reef safe fish and invertebrates. You’ll then be able to select the inhabitants of your tank carefully, without risking damage to each other.

The Top 5 Reef Safe Fish and Invertebrates

Not all fish or invertebrates can be considered reef safe, as some will consume others, tear up coral before proceeding with the abject destruction of your marine aquarium ecosystem.

Keep an open mind when picking out tank critters that are reef safe, as when dealing with living creatures there are no foolproof techniques. If by any chance the fish or invertebrates you’ve chosen turns renegade or out of character, remove it from the tank before serious damage is done. 

The top five reef safe saltwater fish and invertebrates; 

  • Blue Coral Banded Shrimp
  • Chevron Tang
  • Flame Scallop
  • Tomato Clownfish
  • Serpent Starfish

Keeping a reef tank requires a great deal of compatibility and choosing who to include and who to leave out must be done with care. I would also advise a preference for hardy species of fish or invertebrates for your marine tank as opposed to types that are quite involved in their care. 

What Are the 13 Reef Safe Fish and Invertebrates?

A saltwater aquarium takes time and money to set up. This hard work can go up in smoke if you find your corals, fish, or invertebrates ripped apart, being consumed, or destroyed by one of your pet species. 

That’s because one or two of your aquatic friends is not reef safe, and they will keep on inflicting damage to your coral till it dies out

Here is a list of the best reef-safe fish and invertebrates for your marine aquarium; 

The Blue Coral Banded Shrimp 

Also known as the blue boxing shrimp, Stenopus Tenuirostris is native to the Indo pacific region and a popular saltwater tank occupant.  The blue coral banded shrimp only grows to reach approximately 1- inch in length, making them suitable for even the tiniest nano tanks. 

Famed for their environment’s cleaning capabilities, blue coral banded shrimps feed on dead tissue and parasites from other fish. 

Blue coral banded shrimp

Chevron Tang

Ctenochaetus Hawaiiensis or the chevron tang makes a great addition to your reef aquarium. They are also known as black surgeonfish, Hawaiian surgeonfish, or Hawaiian bristle tooth and can grow to about 11 inches. 

Chevron tang, as with other tangs, need lots of space, and it’s advisable you keep them in tanks of more than 80 gallons. These fish feed on algae and seaweed, and will keep your marine reef tank ecosystem balanced but they can also be aggressive against other tangs. 

Flame Scallop

Also known as the red file shell clam or red flame scallop, Ctenoides Scaber is a saltwater clam that’s native to the Caribbean Sea. This is one of the most exotically beautiful and reef safe invertebrates, but it shouldn’t be kept by an aquarist beginner as it’s hard to care for. 

flame scallop

Flame scallops need to be target fed otherwise they’ll perish in less than a year.  The red file shell clam eats phytoplankton as well as zooplankton, and needs a lot of rocks, reefs, and other hiding places. 

Tomato Clownfish

This reef safe fish is also called the red or bridled clownfish, and it’s native to the Pacific Ocean. Tomato clownfish or Amphiprion Frenatus grows to an adult size of 5 inches, essentially a small fish but sporting a larger than life character. 

tomato clownfish

Excellent for saltwater aquarium beginners, tomato clownfish are easy to care for, seeing as they are hardy and fun to watch. Similar to other clownfish, the captive-bred Tomatoes are omnivorous, accepting many fish food available from pet stores. 

Serpent Sea Star

A common marine fish tank inhabitant, Ophiolepsis Superba is a starfish that’s native to many reefs around the world. Serpent sea stars are nocturnal opportunistic scavengers, coming out at night to display the exotic colors that make them popular with saltwater aquarium enthusiasts. 

serpent sea star

Since they eat almost anything they come across, serpent sea stars will make great reef-safe invertebrates to add to your reef tank. 

Starry Blenny

Also called the snowflake benny, this fish’s tail and pectoral fins are yellow while its body has a mottled dark brown coloration dotted with white. Salaries Ramosus can grow up to 4 ½ inches and prefers an aquarium environment with multiple levels of swimming space, preferably 30 gallons or more. 

starry blenny

A lover of rocky underwater topography, and unless other occupants look like it, the starry benny isn’t aggressive so keep it alone or as a couple depending on your reef tank space. This reef safe fish is a microalgae grazer, perching or hopping from rocks and coral, and you can supplement its algae diet with herbivore fish foods, spirulina, or other vegetable matter. 

Dwarf Yellow Tip or Blue Leg Hermit Crabs

Due to their janitorial endeavors, as they scavenge around your reef tank, a hermit crab or two will make good marine tank occupants. However, I would be cautious when buying a hermit as some species actively destroys fish and coral given half a chance. 

blue leg hermit crab

Go for either the dwarf yellow tip, the dwarf blue leg (Clibanarius Tricolor), the left-handed, the electric orange, or the Halloween hermit crabs. Not only do they help coral by essentially sifting the sand, hermits feast on algae plus any edible debris on the floor of your tank. 

Exquisite Firefish

A cousin of the western pacific purple Firefish, the exquisite firefish inhabits deeper water in the western Indian Ocean, is brighter yellow and grows slightly larger than its counterpart. Nemateleotris Decora also has a shorter first dorsal fin and face, while appearing more slender than it’s purple relative. 

exquisite firefish

This fish can jump, so keep a tight lid on your tank which should also feature a loose coral rubble aquascape. Picking food off the substrate or preying on suspended tidbits, the exquisite firefish is a carnivore that’s not aggressive but is territorial where there’s a same-sex own kind. 

Mexican Turbo Snail

The Mexican turbo snail is also known as the top shell or turbo snail lives in coral rock crevices and features a turban-like shell that’s iridescent inside. Turbo snails or Turbo Fluctuosa, do well in reef aquariums due to the availability of algae and the numerous places it can hide. 

mexican turbo snail

The reef safe turbo snail is an entry-level care pet, growing to about 1 ½ inch in length, but don’t expect them to breed easily in your aquarium. Your water tank must also have enough calcium levels since that’s the material the snail uses to build its shell.  

Gold Assessor Basslet

Also known as the golden mini grouper, Assessor Flavissimus has red outlining fins in otherwise entirely yellow coloration. The gold assessor basslet is friendly to other fish or aquarium invertebrates, but it needs at least 30 gallons of water to coexist amicably. 

gold assesor basslet

This reef-safe fish, which grows up to 2 ¼ inches long, is a carnivore and feeds on fresh, flaked, or frozen fish, Mysis shrimp, and squid. You can supplement the gold assessor basslet’s diet with frozen carnivorous fish preparations or vitamin-enriched brine shrimp. 

Scarlet Skunk Cleaner Shrimp

Lysmata Amboinensis or the scarlet skunk cleaner shrimp is the saltwater aquariums medic, actively cleaning other tank inhabitants of their dead tissue and ectoparasites. This reef safe invertebrate’s services are so highly prized by other fish that even large predators will open their jaws for cleaning without munching on the shrimp. 

skunk cleaner shrimp

A popular marine reef tank occupant with home aquarists, the scarlet skunk cleaner shrimp has distinctive red stripes that outline a single white one that runs down its back. These shrimps can grow up to two inches in length, and it’s also known as the white striped cleaner or white-banded cleaner shrimp. 

Neon Blue Goby

Known for its electric blue stripes, the neon blue goby makes a beautiful addition to reef tanks. The reef safe Elacatinus Oceanops features a sleek head and body with characteristic horizontal dark and light blue stripes on both sides. 

neon blue goby

Keep your neon blues in a large aquarium, preferably over 10 gallons, as the 1 ¾ inch mature adult is hardy and not aggressive to other fish or the coral.  Don’t be surprised if this goby spawns and lays eggs in the crevices of your reef, and the carnivorous fish will do well with a diet of frozen or live shrimp, or fish food preparations. 

Watermelon Bubble Tip Anemone

One of the most eye-catching ornamental anemones, Entacmaea Quadricolor is a must-have for your marine reef tank. This striking anemone has fluorescent green tentacles that are rounded on to with purple and pink tips that glow under aquarium lights. 

watermelon bubble tip anemone

Bulbous in appearance, the tentacles of this Actiniidae family member stretch out to sweep the surrounding water for food, retracting again when it’s fed. Watermelon bubble tips can grow up to three inches from base pedal disk to tentacle length and are best kept with a clownfish. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What should you not feed fish?

Fish will dine on almost all the food that we as humans eat, and that’s depending on whether they are herbivores, omnivores, or carnivores. One thing you shouldn’t feed carnivorous or omnivorous fish is food made from members of its species, as it presents hormonal imbalances while promoting cannibalism.

Don’t feed fish bread, as they tend to eat too much and become bloated, sometimes fatally. Fish also shouldn’t eat sugar, except for what you feed them in the form of fruit. 

How do you make homemade fish food?

Depending on the dietary orientation of your pet fish, you can make fish food by mixing ingredients like squid, peas, salmon, shrimp, or spinach. Grate or chop this mixture up before blending it with a consistent amount of water to make a paste. 

Add gelatin to the paste and fill it into an ice cube tray for freezing. The gel lollipops that form can be thawed before being fed to your fish, alternating with pet shop fish flakes. 

How long can fish go without eating?

Depending on the size, age, and dietary habits of your fish, it can go anywhere from a day to four without eating. Large fish carry fat reserves that they can call upon in times of starvation, while smaller ones simply die. 

Carnivorous and some omnivorous species will have options, including eating other fish, which means they’ll survive longer. The same can’t be said for herbivores which will stay alive as long as they can graze within the tank. 

Will reef safe fish eat fellow invertebrates?

Normally, reef-safe fish are either carnivores, omnivores that eat algae, and a few herbivores that hate the taste of coral. In your aquarium, you may also decide to keep a few invertebrates to clean up the environment, but don’t forget that many predator fish eat shrimp, crabs, and sea snails.


To maintain a vibrant reef tank environment, it’s essential that you are mindful of the inhabitants you introduce into your aquarium. Reef safe fish, such as the ones I’ve mentioned should behave and promote balance within the coral-filled ecosystem. 

Always remember however that when dealing with living organisms, especially those that call the ocean home, oddities are bound to occur. Don’t be surprised if your tame coral friendly herbivore pet turns around and start eating all the shrimp and reef rock it can find. 

Be sure to keep up with our fishing and marine life articles.