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Marine/brackish fish for 5 gal suggestions

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#1 Robert Lamb

Robert Lamb
  • NANFA Member
  • Chattanooga, TN

Posted 25 December 2019 - 06:47 PM

I have a 5 gallon marine tank that's been up and running for a while now. I really want to add a native fish as all the snails and decor was also stuff taken from the wild. I don't get to visit the ocean very often but I'm hoping to soon. I'm looking for something that could be found along the SC and FL coasts. I'm leaning towards a goby or blenny but I'm totally open to suggestions.

#2 Chasmodes

  • NANFA Member
  • Central Maryland

Posted 26 December 2019 - 08:07 AM

5 gallons might be a bit small for many of the blennies that you're likely to catch.  You may be able to keep one, depending on the species, because most of them get pretty large, about 5" long or so, and that might be all the fish you can keep in that size tank.  There are a few tiny blennies that you may be able to collect around the Florida Keys if you dive that are small enough that you may be able to keep a few.


You'd need to be very diligent with water changes.  When collecting from the Atlantic Coast around the Gulf, more than likely, you'd probably find the following:


Genus Chasmodes:  Striped blennies (Chasmodes bosquianus) in SC to the about Cape Canaveral, and Florida blennies (Chasmodes saburrae) from Cape Canaveral South and around the Southern tip of Florida to about Pensacola in the Gulf.  From there West along the Gulf Coast you'll find stretchjaw blennies (Chasmodes longimaxilla).  Striped blennies can grow up to 5" long.  


Genus Hypsoblennius:  Hypsoblennius hentz can be found along the Atlantic Coast and around into the Gulf (although much harder to find there).  You may encounter other Hypsoblennius species along the Gulf Coast of Florida, such as the freckled blenny (Hypsoblennius ionthas).  Most Hypsoblennius species grow to 4-5" long.


Genus Hypleurochilus:  The crested blenny can be found pretty much where C. bosquianus is found, from NC to Flordia.  Its cousin, the featherduster blenny (Hypleurochilis geminatus), can be collected along the Gulf Coast.  Also, although not as common, you may find the orange-spotted blenny (Hypleurochilus springer) along the Gulf Coast as well.  These blennies grow to about 5" long.


Genus Scartella:  The molly miller (Scartella cristata) is a great aquarium fish, but these also get to about 5" long.  The can be collected along the Atlantic Coast from NC to Florida, and around into the Gulf.


Genus Parablennius:  These stray North along the Atlantic, apparently, but you're most likely to encounter these in Florida, especially the seaweed blenny (Parablennius marmoreus).  I'm not positive, but I think that these get to about 3-4" long.


Genus Emblemaria:  These are the tiny blennies that I mentioned earlier, commonly known as sailfin blennies.  The pirate blenny (Emblemaria piratula) can be found along the Atlantic Coast.  There are more species of sailfin blennies found in Florida, especially around the Keys.  These don't get much bigger than 2" long, and you may be able to keep more than one in there.


Genus Labrisoma:  The hairy blenny (Labrisoma nuchipinnis) is a good aquarium fish, but probably gets too large for your tank.


There may be a few other blennies around Florida, as the Florida Coast is rich in diversity of blenny species.  The blennies above mostly eat meat, although molly millers are known to eat both meaty foods and veggies.  There are a couple algae eating blennies along the Atlantic and Gulf as well, such as the redlip blenny (Ophioblennius macclurei), 


I've kept naked gobies (Gobiosoma bosc), and you're likely to encounter other species from SC to Florida, and most of them you can keep in your tank (maybe two or three).  


Other fish that would be suitable:  skilletfish (Gobiesox strumosus), Sheepshead minnow (Cyprinodon variegatus) or its cousins.  Probably your best bet for keeping multiple fish in your tank would be rainwater killifish (Lucania parva), because they're pretty peaceful, from what I observed, and they don't get very big.  I'm keeping 9 of them now in a 20g long QT tank.  


I'm sure that there are other fish you may encounter, but, these are the ones that come to mind.  Good luck.  I'd like to see what you come up with.

Kevin Wilson

#3 Doug_Dame

  • NANFA Member

Posted 01 January 2020 - 12:44 PM

A 5-gal tank is so small. Keeping it environmentally stable, especially for saltwater, is x-times harder (and more work) than a larger tank.


And as Chasmodes, who knows his blennies, notes, some of the more attractive candidates get to 5", which is large enough that you're basically-capacity capped at one specimen in a 5 gallon tank. And with just one fish, you don't experience the interaction between the fish that is so entertaining, and the fish also has a boring life in solo confinement.


If you're absolutely fixated on saltwater for this tank, I'd suggest going with rainwater killies, which are tiny enough that you could have 4 or 6 (*), or hermit crabs.


And get into a bigger tank ASAP. Maintenance will be much easier, and you'd have so many more choices of critters.


If you like the choices of inhabitants, brackish water tanks can be a good way of going on smaller salt-water tanks. Most brackish water fish are very robust, and used to extreme variations in salinity, temp, etc. With smaller tanks that are harder to keep stable, fish that tolerate changing conditions well can be helpful. For example, a 20L works pretty well for most of the shoreline killifish. 



(*) But compare a 5 gal with s/w rainwater killies, vs the same tank with a near-peer fish, f/w Heterandria formosa. The Heter are more attractive, interesting to watch, very low maintenance, breed easily, happy in higher densities, and the tank could be nicely planted. 


HTH & best of luck.

Doug Dame

Floridian now back in Florida

#4 Robert Lamb

Robert Lamb
  • NANFA Member
  • Chattanooga, TN

Posted 01 January 2020 - 12:59 PM

I'm planning on using what I have in the 5 gallon to start cycling a 10g now, and maybe a 20 if i can get one discounted. Thanks for all the input guys!

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