The 11 best saltwater fish ideas for a 10-gallon tank

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One of my first disappointments in life came at an early age.

10-Gallon Saltwater Reef Tank by Extreme Corals

When I was just 10, my father bought me my first saltwater aquarium but unfortunately, there weren’t many fish species I could keep in a 10-gallon setup.

Or at least that’s what I thought at the time.

As my knowledge about the fishkeeping world grew, I kept finding more and more species that can be kept in small tanks such as mine.

I held on to my first setup for quite a while and experimented with different stocking ideas until I realized I would need a larger one to house the popular clownfish.

This list includes some of the best saltwater species I’ve kept in my 10-gallon tank over the years. I hope you like it.

The 11 Best Marine Fish For An Astonishing 10-Gallon Tank

As enjoyable as the fish-keeping experience is, it is not the cheapest or easiest hobby to get into.

I learned early on in my aquarist journey that if I wanted a bigger tank, I would need more money, time, and space to do it well.

Although I have been able to upgrade to bigger aquariums now, I learned a lot about which fish work well in a smaller-sized tank.
So to help you get started on some cool stocking ideas for a breathtaking aquarium, I’ve compiled a list of 11 tiny marine fish.

Take a look at these small saltwater fish for a 10-gallon tank:

1. Flaming Prawn Goby Fish – Discordipinna griessingeri

shy flaming prawn goby fish

by i cant think

  • Maximum adult size: 1 in (2.54 cm)
  • Key traits: Peaceful, shy, small, colors include red, white, and orange, likes to hide
  • Reef safe: Yes

If you’re looking for the Flaming Prawn Goby fish in nature, they can be found swimming along the reefs of the Indo-pacific ocean and hiding in the natural structures that form below the water’s surface.

This fiery little fish is only 1 inch (2.54 cm) in size, which makes it one of the smallest on the list.

Flaming Prawn Gobies can live in a 5-gallon tank, so a 10-gallon tank probably feels like a mansion to them.

By taking one look at their exotic appearance and aesthetic coloration, it’s no surprise that they are highly sought after in the aquarist community.

Keep in mind that these fish are tiny and often hide, so at times you may forget that they are even in the tank.

The Flaming Prawn Goby, or Discordipinna Griessingeri, is a beautiful and peaceful fish, so I encourage you to get one if the price doesn’t scare you off.

Author’s note: Goby fish are known to jump out of their enclosures, so make sure to properly seal the tank’s top to avoid this happening.

2. Panamic Barnacle Blenny Fish – Acanthemblemaria hancocki

panamic barnacle blenny

by Nebulosa

  • Maximum adult size: 1.8 in (4.5 cm)
  • Key traits: Calm, colorful, very fast, and carnivorous
  • Reef safe: Yes

When it comes to entertaining fish that can hold your attention for a long time, the Panamic Barnacle Blenny is a top contender.

They have a primarily carnivorous diet of shrimp and various diced types of meat. So for these fish feeding time is when the party really gets started.

The Panamic Barnacle Blennies’ small stature allows them to move pretty quickly through the water, so once the food enters the tank, you will see them dart in to grab a piece before, just as quickly, leaving.

When fully grown, Acanthemblemaria hancocki grows to be about 1.8 inches (4.5 cm) in size, so they only need a 10-gallon tank to be happy.

If their crazy feeding habits weren’t enough to convince you, maybe their long spotted bodies and red eyes might keep your attention.

3. Twin Spot Goby – Signigobius biocellatus

twin spot goby

by boacvh

  • Maximum adult size: 3.5 in (8.9 cm)
  • Key traits: Distinct spots, peaceful but territorial, picky eaters, and sand shifters
  • Reef safe: Yes

Despite its bigger size compared to other fish on this list, the Twin Spot Goby does just fine in a 10-gallon tank as long as its specific needs are met.

If you have a little more experience with taking care of saltwater fish, this unique-looking species is a good option to consider.

One thing you might see Twin Spot Gobies doing a lot is digging up the substrate at the bottom of the tank, which is where they get their food from.

They aren’t very big at only 3.5 inches (8.9 cm), but they don’t do well with members of their species due to their territorial nature.

However, they get along well with other fish.

Accurately named, the Twin Spot goby (Signigobius biocellatus) is a sandy-looking fish that has two identical-looking spots on each of the fins on its body.

Despite all the cool qualities of these fish, they aren’t the best option for a beginner due to their specific dietary and environmental needs.

4. Court Jester Goby – Koumansetta rainfordi

court jester goby

by idog

  • Maximum adult size: 2.8 in (7.1 cm)
  • Key traits: Stripped body, peaceful, colorful, picky, shy, and an algae eater
  • Reef safe: Yes

As is the case with most goby fish, Court Jester Gobies are reef-safe and peaceful with other inhabitants within their tank.

They have a really unique appearance with red stripes going across their body and blues, purples, and oranges on them as well.

They are not the biggest or smallest fish on this list at 2.8 inches (7.1 cm), but a 10-gallon tank is ideal for them.

The smaller the tank, the easier they are to see, just remember not to add aggressive fish that will stress them out. Koumansetta rainfordi are algae eaters as well, so they will not only be fun to look at; they will help to keep their aquarium clean while getting a snack.

5. Yellow-Striped Cardinalfish – Apogon cyanosoma

yellow striped cardinalfish

by sosptuba

  • Maximum adult size: 2.5 in (6.4 cm)
  • Key traits: Calm, schooling fish, slow, hardy, and striped
  • Reef safe: Yes

This small fish from Indonesia is another great option for anyone looking to stock their tank with unique and exotic fish.

When fully grown, Yellow-Striped Cardinalfish reach a max size of 2.5 inches (6.4 cm), which isn’t very big.

They enjoy being in groups and get along well with one another. The small body size of the Yellow-Striped Cardinalfish makes this possible in a 10-gallon tank, but bigger tanks are always encouraged.

Apogon cyanosoma is a calm and generally content fish, so you won’t have to worry about them starting trouble with other members of your tank.

Their yellow-striped bodies are visually appealing and fun to watch while slowly swimming around the center of your aquarium. This type of Cardinalfish is also hardy and easy to feed, so it is a very beginner-friendly fish. In fact, I would highly recommend it to anyone just starting in the saltwater aquarium hobby.

6. Possum Wrasse – Wetmorella nigropinnata

possum wrasse

by Cannedfish

  • Maximum adult size: 2.9 in (7.4 cm)
  • Key traits: Easy to manage, unique appearance, likes to hide in rocks, and peaceful
  • Reef safe: Yes

If you’re looking for a unique-looking fish that has a calm nature and low maintenance, the Possum Wrasse, or Wetmorells nigropinnata, is a great option for you.

Possum Wrasses don’t need a lot to be happy except for proper water parameters and rocks at the bottom for them to hide in.

Their tiny size of 2.9 inches (7.4 cm), makes them a little skittish around other fish in the tank, so try to provide them with plenty of hideouts to retreat to when they get scared.

Possum Wrasses do best when they are on their own or in small groups with 1 male and the rest – female.

The recommended tank size for this species of fish is 10 to 15 gallons, so they will fit in a 10-gallon one, but don’t overcrowd them.

7. Tailspot Blenny – Ecsenius stigmatura

tailspot blenny

by nicholc2


  • Maximum adult size: 2.5 in (6.4 cm)
  • Key traits: Friendly, can be somewhat shy, consumes a lot of algae, and easy to take care of
  • Reef safe: Yes

This tiny fish is only 2.5 inches (6.4 cm) when fully grown and can comfortably live in a 10-gallon tank.

One of the best features of the Tailspot Blenny is their adorable expression that looks as if they are amazed by something.

They also have captivating color patterns that can vary between each individual fish.

Ecsenius stigmatura as they’re also known, like to dash in between rocks on the lower levels of the tank.

Make sure you provide your new Tailspot Blennies with plenty of aquascape structures to use as bases for their hide-and-seek activities.

This fish, in particular, is great for a beginner because of their peaceful nature to coral reefs and other fish, plus their strong appetite for algae.

They dart around quickly so it might be hard to see them, but there is a chance you’ll catch them eating some algae on the tank every now and then.

To learn more about different types of saltwater algae eaters, click here.

8. Sharknose Goby – Gobiosoma evelynae

sharknose goby

by ReeferMan420

  • Maximum adult size: 1.8 in (4.6 cm)
  • Key traits: Friendly, energetic, striped body patterns, and helpful
  • Reef safe: Yes

The Sharknose Goby (gobiosoma evelynae) can be found amongst the coral reefs of the western Atlantic in places like the Bahamas and the Caribbean.

One particularly fun fact about this fish is that it is symbiotic with the other fish in the tank with them.

What do I mean by this?

Sharknose Gobies will approach other fish in their community to eat their dead skin and remove the parasites from their bodies, which helps to improve the health of the whole aquarium.

I personally love the look of this fish with its darker body and brighter stripes.

Also, Sharknose Gobies don’t actively swim around and are small enough to fit into a 10-gallon tank at only 1.8 inches (4.6 cm).

Their friendly personalities and helpful nature make them an excellent choice for anyone looking to stock a micro aquarium like that.

9. Mini Dart Goby Fish – Aioliops megastigma

mini dart goby

by DaveFason

  • Maximum adult size: 1 in (2.5 cm)
  • Key traits: Small, active, likes to school, and colorful
  • Reef safe: Yes

One of the smallest fish on this list is the Mini Dart Goby, also known as Aioliops megastigma, at only 1 inch (2.5 cm) in size when fully grown.

Like many other small fish I am listing here, they prefer to stay hidden within the live rocks and crevices at the bottom of their aquarium.

With a 10-gallon tank, you might have a better chance of being able to see them swimming around.

Get at least 7 specimens to put in your tank so that they feel more comfortable being in a group than they would on their own.

Although Mini Dart Gobies are peaceful and safe for your reef tank, they might be a little difficult for someone just starting in the hobby.

They have small mouths that make them hard to feed, and on top of that, they are picky eaters.

However, if you are willing to put in the extra work, Mini Dar Gobies are wonderful little nano fish to include in your setup.

Author’s note: These fish will fight amongst each other when establishing their social rank, so keep an eye out for casualties during this process.

10. Pygmy Coral Croucher – Caracanthus unipinna

pygmy coral croucher

by Wolfgang Suchy

  • Maximum adult size: 2 in (5 cm)
  • Key traits: Prefers alone time, peaceful, orange color, and is not shy when it comes to other fish
  • Reef safe: Yes

Although the Pygmy Coral Croucher is not shy by any means, you still won’t see it around very often because of its desire to live amongst the coral.

Pygmy Coral Crouchers (Caracanthus unipinna), have a roundish orange body and they like to dwell within the natural structures around them.

They are very tiny at only 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) in body length, meaning that it can be somewhat difficult to find them in your reef tank.

Pygmy Coral Crouchers don’t like to be in large groups and prefer to spend most of their time alone.

Although they are aloof, they are not aggressive fish and will easily cohabit in a 10-gallon saltwater aquarium with other peaceful residents.

Despite how cool the Pygmy Coral Croucher is, it may not be the best option for a beginner for a few reasons.

They have venom in their fins (not too dangerous to humans) and they require special feeding care.

So keep these traits in mind when making your decision.

11. Clown Goby Fish – Gobiodon okinawae

clown goby fish

by icenine

  • Maximum adult size: 1.5 in (3.8 cm)
  • Key traits: Bright neon yellow color, peaceful, and small
  • Reef safe: No

The Clown Goby fish is probably the brightest fish on this list with its unmistakable neon yellow scales.

They are peaceful with other fish in the tank, but they have been known to pick on stony polyp corals.

You can absolutely still put them in a nano reef tank, but avoid including SPS corals in the system.

Anyway, Clown Goby fish are really small at only 1.5 inches (3.8 cm), so they don’t need a whole lot of space.

An aquarium that holds ten gallons of water is going to be just fine for them.

Gobiodon okinawae also prefer to be kept in groups and their tank should have a decent amount of rocks and substrate.

Even though Clown Goby fish are friendly, they still need a place to calm down if they become stressed by the other inhabitants of the tank.

How many fish can you keep in a 10-gallon tank?

A 10-gallon tank is by no means big, so you can put about 6 to 8 fish in there depending on their size, numbers, and temperaments.

All the fish on this list are considered small, but for example, you wouldn’t be able to put as many twin spot gobies as you would Mini Darts Gobies.

To make sure that you don’t overcrowd your fish, it’s best to be familiar with the dimensions of your new 10-gallon tank.

They will help you calculate exactly how many fish you can fit in it without causing unnecessary aggression or deaths.

Another thing you have to keep in mind is to include fish that are compatible with each other.

It wouldn’t be a good idea to put shy feeders with aggressive ones, or bigger species together.

My Favorite Picks

best saltwater fish for 10 gallon tank header

All of these fish can offer something unique to any 10-gallon tank they are included in, but my personal favorites are the Yellow-Striped Cardinalfish, Tailspot blenny, and Sharknose goby.

All of these fish offer helpful qualities when it comes to the success of the tank.

Some are great at cleaning and keeping down parasites, while others make your job easier to do by being easy to manage.

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Momchil Boyanov is the Founder and now Senior Editor of AquAnswers. He has over 13+ years of experience in keeping home aquariums as well as providing professional aquarium services. Momchil has had his fair share of adventures in aquarium care. He has made MANY mistakes throughout his fishkeeping journey and thus learned A LOT. Through Aquanswers, Momchil shares knowledge about freshwater and saltwater aquariums with the people within this community.

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