I would love to have a tank full of lionfish and trigger fish. But picking fish just because they look cool is not the way to start a thriving reef tank, and if you are going to want corals and other small animals in your tank, you better choose your fish wisely. All of these creatures live on the reef together, and they all have their place in this diverse ecosystem. Some fish eat other fish and quit a few popular fish are not reef safe. Just because they are great sellers at the fish store, doesn't mean they will be happy or appropriate in your reef tank and they may even destroy it. A lot of these fish, such as the parrot fish actually eat the coral, and the trigger fish eat snails and shrimp, which are an important aspect to your tanks algae control. The loinfish eats other small fish and is not appropriate for a reef tank. Here is a short list of the most popular reef safe fish that will give you a happy reef tank community that is amazing to watch.
There are thirty species of clownfish recognized by science, and the clownfish is one of the most recognizable reef fish in the marine aquarium hobby. There are many types, colors and patterns of clownfish, ranging from the standard Percula clownfish, to the abstract designs of the Picasso clownfish. They all grow to 4-7 inches, making them appropriate for even small (50 gallon) reef tanks. The diet of the clownfish mostly consists of mysids, copepods, isopods, zooplankton. Algae makes up about 25 percent of its diet in the wild as well (and should also in captivity as well). These fish are passive for the most part and are very colorful. They do well when kept two at a time, and they will form a mated pair.
The PJ Cardinnalfish is named so because of the coloration of it. The fish looks like it is wearing pajamas! PJ Cardinal is a distinct species. They grow up to 2.5 inches, making them perfect in even small (50 gallon) reef tanks. The diet of the clownfish mostly consists of mysids, copepods, isopods, zooplankton. They are a passive, social fish and like to be kept in groups of five or more. If they are kept with a long spined sea urchin they will hide among the spines when they feel threatened.
The Banggi Cardinalfish is an attractive fish and is very popular in the marine aquarium trade. It has a pattern of black bars with white spots. This fish is only found in and around the shallows of about twenty-five islands within the Banggai Archipelago. The Banggai Cardinalfish grows to the size of 3 inches, making it perfect for small (50 gallon) reef tanks. The diet of the Banggai Cardinalfish consists of mainly Copepods, and have been known to eat mysis in captivity. This fish often breeds in captivity and it is an exciting reef tank event. They are paternal mouthbrooders, and they have no planktonic stage in its life. The male keeps the eggs in his mouth till they hatch and they are tiny exact replicas of the parent fish. This fish is very passive and does well in the reef tank community. They like to be kept in groups of five or more and will hang out together in your reef aquarium.
The Mandarinfish is one of the most beautiful fish addition that could be made to a reef aquarium. It is one of only two animal species known to have blue colouring because of cellular pigment. The other is the closely related Psychedelic Mandarin. The Mandarinfish is passive and does well with other passive fish. The Mandarinfish grows to about 2.5 inches in size, making it perfect for small (50 gallon) reef aquariums. The diet of this fish is rather specific, some of these fish never adapt to aquarium diets, refusing to eat anything but live amphipods and copepods making it rather difficult to keep in a new reef aquarium. This fish will do well in any well established reef aquarium that has a healthy population of amphipods and copepods, and is rather resistant to common fish keeping illnesses such as ich.
Yellow Hawaiian Tang
The Yellow Hawaiian Tang is a striking yellow color and has a distinctive shape. It grows to 8 inches in size and is not recommended for tanks smaller then four feet long (75 gallons and up) as it needs ample room to swim. Like the name insists, this fish comes from the Hawaiian islands. It is a passive fish for the most part except toward other members of the same species in the aquarium. One tang per tank is the general rule of thumb that should be adhered to unless you have a very large reef tank (500 gallons) and decide to keep a school of tangs. This fish has a diet that consists of mostly algae, but I have had a few that would eat mysis on occasion.
These fish will all live peacefully in your aquarium together with your corals to make an amazing reef tank.