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What Makes Saltwater Fish So Colorful? Featured

The best way to keep your saltwater fish bright and colorful is by keeping their environment clean and healthy.

saltwater tank Colorful saltwater aquarium

If you have ever spent much time at the aquarium at your local zoo you may have noticed a significant difference in the appearance between freshwater and saltwater species of fish. Whereas many freshwater species have dark or neutral colorations featuring varying shades of brown, black and gray, saltwater fish exhibit a rainbow of different colorations. What is so different about saltwater fish that enables them to display these bold colorations and what purpose do these colors serve? If you have ever been awed by the brilliant colors of a butterfly fish or the striking patterns of a clownfish, you may be interested to learn the facts about saltwater fish coloration.

Color as Camouflage

In school you probably learned about some of the techniques animals use to protect themselves from predators. While some animals develop speed to outrun predators or claws to climb trees so they can escape them, other animals develop camouflage to prevent predators from seeing them. You are probably familiar with insects like the walking stick and certain moths that develop colors and patterns that help them blend in with their environment but did you ever think that the bright colors of saltwater fish might serve the same purpose? When you see a saltwater fish with an electric blue body accented by black or white bands, camouflage is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. In reality, however, this kind of bold coloration and patterning does actually help the fish to blend in with its surroundings.

Think about what a saltwater reef is like. If you have ever gone scuba diving or seen pictures of a thriving saltwater reef, you probably noticed the wide array of colors present in this type of environment. Not only are the fish themselves very colorful, but so are the corals, anemones and other forms of life present in a saltwater reef. It makes sense, then, that saltwater aquarium fish are able to use bright colors and patterns to blend in to such a colorful environment. Marine biologists have labeled this camouflage technique “disruptive coloration” – by displaying a variety of colors or large patterns, the bodies of fish are visually broken-up so a predator is less likely to be able to distinguish the silhouette of the fish against the backdrop of the reef. Not only do saltwater fish display a variety of bold colors and patterns, but some are even able to change color at will. Certain species of triggerfish and goatfish can change colors rapidly while others do so more slowly, changing color to adapt to the change in light as day transitions into night.

Maximizing the Color of Your Fish

Although saltwater aquarium fish are generally very colorful by nature, they may not display their maximum potential for coloration in captivity unless you make a conscious effort to help them do so. To help your fish achieve their ideal coloration it is important that you provide them with a clean, healthy tank environment and a balanced diet. Offering your fish a varied diet of commercial, live, frozen and freeze-dried foods is the best way to ensure that all of these nutritional needs are met – you may even be able to find color-enhancing formulas of commercial food that will bring out the natural colorations of your fish. In addition to a healthy diet, you should also do your best to make sure the water quality in your tank remains high. You will need to perform routine weekly water changes of between 10% and 20% of your total tank volume, replacing the dirty water you siphon out with fresh saltwater. You might also want to consider adding an EcoBio-Stone to your saltwater tank to help keep it clean and clear. EcoBio-Stones are made from zeolite and they are infused with the beneficial bacteria your tank needs to maintain the nitrogen cycle. These bacteria will rapidly multiply after being introduced to your tank, working to break down waste products like ammonia and converting them into less harmful substances. (Sufficient levels of bacteria are usually reached in 2 to 6 weeks.) With the help of an EcoBio-Stone, your tank water will remain clear and odor-free which will help your fish achieve their full potential for health and coloration.

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