any diminutive fish or crustaceans that
can fit into its mouth. Choose tankmates
accordingly. Named for its coloration—
dark-brown to black stripes and spots set
against a foundation of gray and yellow—
this species is easily recognizable and
justifiably popular for its appealing looks.
The Liopropoma genus also contains some
wonderful basslets, one of which is the
spectacular candy basslet L. carmabi, a
highly prized specimen in the hobby. In my
humble opinion, this little tropical Western
Atlantic beauty gives every other reef fish
a run for its money when it comes to
coloration. Bright orange overall, with eye-popping lavender horizontal stripes edged
with intense red, the colors of this species
literally dazzle the eye of the beholder. The
recognizable Swissguard basslet L. rubre
is similar in patterning but can’t compare
But alas! The secretive L. carmabi is
difficult to collect and, therefore, quite
rare in the trade. Not surprisingly, when
it is available, buyers can expect to part
with the proverbial arm and leg if they
hope to acquire one. If you are able to get
your hands on a specimen, it’s best to keep
this reclusive species in a small reef system
where its show-stopping beauty can be
appreciated. In a larger fish-only system,
on the other hand, it will likely remain in
hiding, lost to view.
The chalk bass Serranus tortugarum is a great choice for smaller reef or fish-only systems, provided
it is supplied plenty of hiding places and kept with non-aggressive tankmates.
No discussion of aquarium-friendly
basslets would be complete without
mention of the royal gramma Gramma
loreto, a.k.a. the fairy basslet, of the
tropical Western Atlantic. This is one of
my all-time favorite fish for its general
peaceful deportment, entertaining
behavior, and ease of feeding. This species
will readily accept just about every food
offered and will keep you amused with its
peculiar habit of hovering upside-down
or sideways in a cave or beneath a live-rock ledge. Given its proclivity for rocky
habitat and its good behavior toward
sessile reef invertebrates, G. loreto is an
ideal candidate for the reef aquarium.
One caveat about this species (as well
as many of the basslets discussed in this
article) is that it’s a notorious jumper—
something I can attest to personally.
After I’d had one particular specimen for
several months, I let my guard down—
and my tank uncovered—which allowed
the gramma to leap to its demise. When I
discovered the poor critter dried up on my
dining room floor, I immediately placed it
in a plastic container of aquarium water.
Believe it or not, it did come back around
for a short period before finally expiring.
Don’t make the same mistake I made!
Keep your aquarium well covered at all
times. Remember, if you give a gramma
even a tiny opening in your aquarium
cover, it will likely find a way to leap
G. loreto looks as if its front half was
dipped in purple or violet paint and its back
half was dipped in yellow. It also has fine
yellow streaks extending backward from
its eyes and a dark eyespot located near
the leading edge of its dorsal fin. Be aware
that the royal dottyback Pseudochromis
paccagnellae sports very similar coloration,
sans the eye streaks and dorsal spot.
However, while G. loreto is generally mild
The Swissguard basslet Liopropoma rubre.
mannered (if somewhat aggressive in the
defense of its hiding place), P. paccagnellae
is a notorious bully known to take on
tankmates many times its own size with
Less commonly available (translation:
more expensive) but an equally suitable
species for the aquarium is the blackcap
basslet Gramma melacara of the tropical
Western Atlantic. Solid purple with a
black “cap” extending diagonally from
its lower lip through its dorsal fin, G.
melacara is quite attractive in its own
right. Why isn’t this delightful species
more commonly available in the hobby?
Well, it basically comes down to the
depth at which it’s collected. According to
fishbase.org, G. melacara is most common
in water more than 30 meters (over 98
feet) deep. As any scuba diver can attest,
collecting at that depth poses significantly