Best Schooling Fish For Saltwater Aquariums

In this article, I will show you some of the best schooling fish for saltwater aquariums. Schooling fish are highly desired as they are unique the way they group and swim together.

schooling fish for saltwater tanks

Watching a large group of schooling fish is something to be enjoyed for sure. It’s amazing to see them swim in perfect unison without colliding with each other. It can be difficult to keep schooling fish in a home aquarium due to the size of tank required to house them properly.

Smaller schooling fish are commonly kept in saltwater tanks but larger fish and schools are not. Generally these fish are only a few inches in size and you would only keep a few in your tank enough to school together. In the wild, it’s common to see schools of hundreds or even thousands of fish schooling together. Of course, this is not possible in a fish tank at home.

Not all saltwater fish are schooling fish. There are some that are better suited for a saltwater aquarium than others.

What are schooling fish?

Schooling fish are described as a group of fish that are swimming in the same direction in a coordinated manner.

Why do fish school?

There are a few reasons why fish school:

1. Safety

It’s very common for large groups of fish to school to stay protected from other threatening fish. Predator fish will have a hard time bullying a group of schooling fish versus 1 individual fish. It’s also easy for fish in a school to protect their territory and stay safe from other fish.

2. Breeding

Another reason why fish school, is that schooling will bring males and females together for breeding purposes. It greatly increases the odds of successful breeding.

3. Feeding

It is easier for fish in a school to find food versus a single fish. Like the saying goes, the more eyeballs the better. Fish are able to track down other livestock that can serve as a tasty meal for the school. This is quite common in the wild but the chances of it happening in your saltwater tank are slim.

What are shoaling fish?

Shoaling fish are a behavior where fish stay together for social reasons.

Best schooling fish for saltwater tanks

Here are our picks for the best schooling fish for your saltwater tank. All of these fish are peaceful and reef safe.

Blue/Green Chromis

Blue green chromis (Chromis viridis)

The Blue/Green Chromis is a very colorful and active fish that can be seen swimming in the middle to upper areas of the tank. They do best in groups of 5-6 but larger groups are commonly seen together. They are rarely seen as a threat and most other fish don’t bother them.

The Chromis is a great fish for beginners as they are very hardy and can handle less than ideal water conditions. They are a Damselfish which are known for their aggression but the Chromis is not one of them.

It’s best to have plenty of rock formations in the tank as the Chromis love to swim around them. They are a fast-moving fish and can be seen darting around the tank. They also don’t require a large tank as they will only reach about 2″ in size.

The Blue/Green Chromis is also not finicky when it comes to feeding. I can actually hand feed my school of Chromis easily. They will accept a variety of frozen and flake, pellet foods.

Blue/Green Chromis care chart

chromis care chart

2. Lyretail Anthias

Lyretail Anthias

The Lyretail Anthias is a very unique and colorful schooling fish. It is one of the most popular fish for hobbyists to keep. One of the many things that make these fish unique is the fact they are hermaphrodites. This means if a male of the group were to die, the largest female in the group with form into the male of the group.

The Lyretail Anthias is best to be in groups of 5-8 and only 1 male can be in the group. The rest are females. They can live in the aquarium as a single species but it is natural to live in groups.

The male Anthias is slightly more colorful than the females. They have more of a reddish color with a few purple tones. The females are more yellow-orange color with a violet hue around the upper portion of their eyes.

They both have a thin orange line outlined in violet that runs from their eye to their pectoral fin.

They require a larger aquarium as they will grow to be 5″ in size. They need the open space to swim. The Lyretail is considered to be the more aggressive of the Anthias species and are not recommended for beginners as they have a specific feeding requirement in order to stay healthy.

It’s important that they receive 3 feedings per day to satisfy their high metabolism needs.

Lyretail Anthias care chart

#3. Bangaii Cardinal

Bangaii Cardinal Fish (Pterapogon kauderni) isolated on white background.
Bangaii Cardinal Fish (Pterapogon kauderni) isolated on white background.

The Bangaii Cardinal is a small and peaceful fish that can be kept as a single fish or in groups. It is a very unique looking fish that has black stripes and white dots. They are a very slow-moving fish and covers all areas of the tank.

Most saltwater hobbyists either keep or have kept a Bangaii cardinal. They are a very common fish to keep. But that does create a problem where they are actually close to being placed on the endangered species list.

If you decide to purchase a Bangaii Cardinal or a group of them, try to find ones that are tank-raised if possible.  This will help keep them off the list.

One of the great things about these fish is that they are somewhat easy to breed. If you can successfully pair a male and female together, chances of them breeding are quite high. The trouble is finding a suitable pair. You may have to put 3 of them in a tank and see which ones form a pair. Then remove the odd one out to avoid being bullied.

The Bangaii is easy to feed and will accept frozen, live, pellets, and flake foods.